The holiday season is here—which can be both exciting and anxiety-producing. In theory, it’s wonderful for everyone to gather and be festive, but the reality is that bringing many people together can be stressful.

While you can’t anticipate or prevent all conflicts or hurt feelings, you can follow some rules to maintain civility—and your own sanity.

Put Respect First

Above all else, commit to being respectful of others whether you agree with them or not. It’s pretty simple: treat others as you would like to be treated.

If you are a guest, follow your host’s rules without comment or complaint. If you are hosting, ask the same of those who visit. Before you say something, be sure to ask yourself: am I being respectful?

Avoid Charged Topics

Today, friends and family members often live far apart, which means we may not be familiar with what’s going on in our loved ones’ lives. Without being intrusive, it’s good to ask ahead of time if there are topics friends or family members would prefer to avoid. Has someone recently gone through a break-up or lost their job? Is your niece having trouble getting pregnant? Was your cousin devastated about not getting into his first-course college?  Check in ahead of time if there are topics you suspect friends and relatives would rather not discuss in a big group. 

Don’t Take Things Personally

Remember that everyone deals with stress in different ways. Some people become grumpy, particularly when they’re hosting and want everything to be perfect. We all put a lot of pressure on ourselves during the holidays so it’s best to let snippy comments or short replies roll off your back. Chances are, the person making the comment isn’t trying to be hurtful and is instead feeling overwhelmed. If you’re the host, try not to stress if a dish doesn’t turn out right or a guest is late. Remind yourself that everyone (including yourself) is doing their best and that the point is to be together and have a good time —whether everything is perfect or not. 

Avoid Touchy Topics

Even if you think family members and friends are on the same page in terms of politics or religion, it’s best to avoid these topics if you can. Such discussions can lead to hurt feelings—and fierce arguments. We spend enough time debating these topics every day so why not give them a rest on this one special day.

Instead, share memories, watch a movie (or home movies), or spend time outside (skating or a hike will burn off calories and bad moods). 

Leave Phones in a Bowl

Encourage people to put their phones away, or collect them in a bowl. Have a camera available for special moments, and encourage everyone to use it (be sure to send everyone copies when the event is over). Use the opportunity to work on active listening, making eye contact, and seeing the world through your own eyes instead of a lens!

November through that first week in January is a gauntlet of holiday parties and gatherings, so it can become exhausting. Make time for exercise, sleep, and some down time, and you’ll enjoy the season more. Be grateful for your life, for the ones you share it with, and all the little things we take for granted every day. Keep things in perspective and who knows? This could be the best year yet!