Getting to the Chinese Buffet 


I was recently chatting with some physicians (If you’re a physician and you haven’t joined us for a Physician’s Anonymous meeting, where are you?) who were describing holiday strife and family boundaries. One mentioned that, without fail, people in her family fight and someone ends up leaving. Another mentioned that so many family events get ruined and that he often ends up “just eating at a Chinese buffet” for Christmas. Still, another admitted dread around all of the tough family dynamics during holiday gatherings. 

So, here’s what I proposed to them: What if we went to the Chinese Buffet a little sooner? What I mean by this is taking a break for ourselves before things feel chaotic. Or, deciding for ourselves, or with our partners, what we need to enter into family gatherings as our most genuine selves. Or, choosing the buffet from the start. 

Here’s how this might look in a few scenarios:

  • Before heading to Aunt Ethel’s house, prepare yourself. What do you need that day to feel centered and energetic prior to the gathering? What can you do to be in the healthiest mindset? For example:
    • Going for a walk outdoors, in nature prior; 
    • Staying in your jammies for an extra 20 minutes and manifesting a peaceful gathering; 
    • Find a code word with your family when it feels like “too much”; or,
    • Listening to fun music on the way and not rushing out the door.
  • Before committing to the family gathering, make a plan. For example:
    • How long do we want to be there?
    • Is everyone ok if we need to leave early? How will we communicate such?
    • Would drinking or eating certain items make it harder for you to maintain clear thinking about how you want to interact?
    • Can you make a commitment to your partner that you stick together when communicating with Aunt Ethel or simply decide to stay away from certain topics?
  • Decide if you have the bandwidth to go. For example:
    • You’re exhausted and dreading the gathering. It’s ok to decline.
    • You’ve overcommitted yourself. Can you send a gift or another family representative on your behalf?
    • Limit your time and give yourself something to look forward to when you go home.
    • If it feels toxic all together, perhaps decide to stay home – or choose the Chinese Buffet from the start! 

In other words, there are a lot of ways to protect our sanity during the holidays. The first step is increased self-awareness. Then, make a plan that feels healthy, intentional, and genuine based on your needs and your family’s needs. 

Then, if you end up at the Chinese buffet, just smile and nod at the other folks who decided to forgo strife and embrace solace during the holidays