Christmas is a time when all things are merry and bright. We road trip for hours or fly cross-country to spend time the holidays with close family and friends, and there’s a general festiveness to the last few weeks of December.

However, the holiday season might not feel like as joyful as the songs make it out to be, and for many people, returning home for the holidays or attending that Christmas work party can feel a bit like torture. If you’re the type who likes to avoid these sort of gatherings, don’t despair. We’ve put together a few helpful tips that can get you through even the most arduous of holiday gatherings.

1. Try not to focus on yourself

It can be so easy to feel insecure about all sorts of things when you’re heading to a family gathering or a social event around the holidays. You might be wondering what you should wear, if you’re bringing the right type of food, or if everyone thinks you just said something stupid or not. Will Grandma ask me if I’m dating anyone? Will Uncle Bob ask if I’m getting good grades in my classes? 

The thing is, more often than not, people are less worried about you and actually probably working through some of the same things you are. By focusing on yourself, you’ll cause yourself undue anxiety, and it might be trickier to actually enjoy yourself at whatever gathering you’re attending. Try your best not to focus on yourself, and turn your focus outward toward other people.

2. Be curious and kind 

This is a good rule of thumb for all of your social interactions, but it especially applies when you’re at holiday gatherings. Instead of focusing inward, look around and see who might also be feeling uncomfortable, and strike up a conversation. Be curious: ask good questions and try and find out more about them. What are their hobbies? Who do they know at this party? Are they a night owl or early bird? It’s helpful to come up with a list of questions before you step food into said holiday gathering, but if you’re great at thinking on the fly, feel free to ask questions as they come to you.

And above all else: be kind. Don’t gossip. Don’t be condescending. Show love to others as Christ loves you. You’ll create a space of safety and comfort for others who might be just as nervous about the holiday gathering as you.

3. Use your technology to connect

It can be pretty easy to just check out and sit on the couch, scrolling Instagram, while your grandmother tries to make conversation with you. Instead of using your technology to escape, be intentional with it. Either leave it in your purse, coat pocket, or bedroom, so you’re not tempted to use it, or try to use it for connection. Use it to play a group game (check out the app, Heads Up), or take some photos together with the group.

Sitting on your phone, scrolling through texts and social media, is like sticking a big stop sign on your face. It communicates that you don’t want to talk—which might be true to some degree—but it isn’t very caring or cognizant. Try not to hide behind your phone—you might be surprised and delighted by the conversations you have!

4. Listen

One of the greatest keys to a good conversation, besides asking questions, is listening. It might seem obvious, but it can be really easy to ask questions and then get distracted by other party happenings. Instead of scanning the room, zero in on the person or people you’re chatting with, and really focus on the things he or she is saying. Not only might you find out some fascinating tidbits that you can ask further questions about, but more importantly, you’ll make the other person feel heard. And that is perhaps one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

5. Don’t be afraid to take a quick break

If your inner introvert is struggling with a several-days-long celebration with extended family, don’t be afraid to take some breaks. Bundle up and go for a walk in the crisp, cool air by yourself, or if you’re at a party, there’s always the bathroom. No one will question your going there! It’s okay to take some breaks, so long as you don’t hide away from everyone forever. It’s healthy to give yourself some room to process and take a few deep breaths.