The holidays are a wondrous time of excessive intake of food and libation with the ones you love. Unfortunately, the ones you love can often be overbearing, passive-aggressive and downright annoying -- sort of like sipping Tabasco with an oral cold sore.

So as you pack your suitcase and prepare to travel to your clan's Thanksgiving gathering, it's important that you also check the emotional baggage you may be carrying.

We asked Dr. Jon-Patrik Pederson, a psychologist who practices in Pasadena, Cal., to give us some pointers on how to spend a long weekend in the house you grew up in without totally losing your mind.

"There's a truism that 'going home isn't really a vacation,' and often it's going to take a lot of patience," says Pederson. The main warning sign he cites is familiar: irritability. When someone flings a turkey across the room, it's a pretty good bet that something's not right. Below are some of Pederson's suggestions for dealing.

Mental Preparation
: Realize that going to your family party is going to involve adjustments, and recognize the adjustments you're making so that you don't suddenly blow your top. "Expecting that and trying to have patience around it, can be very important."

Pederson's provides a holiday exit strategy and other helpful tips after the jump.

Establish boundaries: If your family is capable of talking about these kinds of issues, try discussing them before you go, says Pederson. Let your folks know where you're at and what you expect in terms of how you want to be treated. Asking to be waited on hand-and-foot probably won't go over so well, but you might get them to stop pulling out naked baby pictures in front of your new girlfriend.

Be active
Once you're at the gathering, try to stay focused on taking initiatives, picking up little responsibilities and essentially "being more of an adult." You can also just take off by yourself for a while to get a breather -- don't stay cooped up in the house just because you're there.

Don't be afraid to hit the Holiday Inn: Twenty-four/seven with the family can be tough, especially when you're with a significant other. It may make your folks a little unhappy, but it might be better all around if you just coughed up a little cash and plunked yourself down at a nearby motel. "The family might be a little disappointed," says Pederson. "But if there is a lot of conflict -- or if the person is very introverted -- it can be the best solution."

Have a cover story: Talking to relatives you haven't seen for a while can be annoying -- all the questions about your job, when you're going to get married, and whether your life has turned out as you planned or gone miserably off track. It's not a bad idea to have some pat answers ready so that you can brush off the questions. "It's better than trying to give a lengthy answer or even trying to justify yourself," says Pederson. "You don't have to do that. All you've got to do is give some sort of respectful answer and move on."

Keep the cell phone on: When you've developed a home base away from your parents, coming back can feel isolating -- so make a point of calling friends and staying in contact over the phone or on e-mail. That way you can prevent the sensation that your family is sucking you into a deep, dark turmoil-filled vacuum.

Have any crazy holiday stories that you'd like to share? Please tell us about them the comments, so your fellow readers can know they're not the only ones shackled to a dysfunctional holiday universe.