Holiday Survival Guide

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Help!

“I don’t want to gain 10 pounds over winter break, but I love all those cookies, pies, mashed potatoes, and EVERYTHING!”

One of the best parts of the holidays are all those mouthwatering meals, and you should absolutely let yourself enjoy them—in moderation, says Dr. Ellen Shanley, dietetics director of the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. There’s a middle ground between forgoing treats entirely and stuffing yourself silly, and these three tricks will help you find it.

Don’t Start Off Starving. Being overly hungry can cloud your judgment, so don’t head to a feast on a totally empty stomach. Shanley suggests a healthy snack or light meal, like a salad, beforehand.

Go Slow. It takes a few minutes after your belly’s full for your brain to get the memo; that’s why Shanley recommends you eat slowly and (yep, back to basics) chew well before swallowing.

Say No to Seconds. “Portion control is really key to weight maintenance,” says Shanley. So try to put all of the foods you want on your plate at one time and don’t go back for seconds. Just remind yourself that you can enjoy the leftovers tomorrow!


Help!

“I’m trapped in a room with six distant relatives I’ve never met—and they all want to talk to me.”

We love our families, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re always easy to talk to. “At dinners or going to the neighbor’s, I feel awkward, especially with older people,” says Sierra Evans, 13, from Lehi, Utah. Not to worry, Sierra. Just use these these super-simple strategies. Bonus: These tactics aren’t just for the holidays. Use them in all interactions with adults.

Tactic #1: Make the first move

Avoid the temptation to sit in a dark corner playing Fruit Ninja, advises Josh Shipp, author of The Teen’s Guide to World Domination. “If you don’t talk first, they will, and it’ll take you by surprise—the idea is to keep the ball in your court.”

How to do it: Let them teach you something.

Even the crustiest uncle has something to offer—a card trick, a bird call, a funny joke. So take what you know about the person’s background and lead with something like, “Hey, can you show me how to write my name in Russian?” or “Can you teach me how to play hearts?”

Tactic #2: Deflect those awkward silences and uncomfortable questions

If you make the first move, you’ll give adults less of a chance to be nosy. But just in case you get asked something annoying, you’ll need a second line of defense.

How to do it: Turn the tables

People like to talk about themselves, says manners expert Diane Gottsman. So use that to your advantage by gracefully boomeranging their questions. If Grandma asks, “Do you have a boyfriend?” ask her how she met Grandpa.

Tactic #3: Have an emergency escape plan

“Adults don’t expect you to spend the entire time talking to them,” says Gottsman. The trick is to make your exit with confidence.

How to do it: Excuse yourself politely

Say you enjoyed the conversation and mention one thing you found interesting (“I didn’t know you grew up in Denver!”). If that doesn’t work, hey—eventually, we all have to use the bathroom.


Help!

“I’m usually so pumped to have time off from school, but this year I’m in a major funk. Any ideas for how I can break out of it?”

We all feel down sometimes, and the holidays can make things worse. Maybe your parents are whisking you off to your grandparents’ house six states away, or perhaps you’re just sick of gross winter weather (many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] and feel moody, lethargic, and blue, sometimes until spring). No matter the cause, these powerhouse pick-me-uppers can help.

Crank up the music. “I like to listen to summery, happy music, like the Beach Boys.” —Sophia Leon, 15, New York City

Volunteer. “It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re serving others.” —Josh Shipp, Teen’s Guide to World Domination

Make a gratitude list. “Brainstorm a list of all the good things in your life.” —Lisa Schab, psychotherapist, Illinois

Crack yourself up. “When I’m feeling moody, I try to get myself to laugh: I watch stand-up comedy on YouTube or episodes of How I Met Your Mother or 30 Rock on Netflix.” —Izzie Gutenplan, 15, New York


Help!

“I’m afraid my friend got me a gift, but I didn’t get her anything. What do I do?”

You have two choices, says manners expert Gottsman—here they are.

Prevent it. Ask your friends ahead of time.

Simply say, “Hey, what are we doing about gifts this year? Anyone up for Secret Santa?” (Chances are, they’ll be thrilled to avoid awkwardness as well). Another great way to prepare is to keep an extra gift wrapped and ready in your locker in case of emergencies. (Mia Alessi, a 13-year-old in Baltimore, Maryland, always keeps her eyes peeled for great deals throughout the year, like cute marked-down necklaces).

Deal with it. If you do find yourself without a present in return, there’s no reason to panic. Thank the gift-giver sincerely and leave it at that. If you can give them something later, you can mention that a gift is on its way. Just be careful not to make too many excuses, because the more you make, the more awkward the situation becomes. And who needs that?

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