The ice clinks against the glass as Uncle Ralph swirls his scotch. His red eyes and slurred speech inform you that the annual, “When I was in Saigon” monologue is moments away. Cousin Suzy, a born-again Christian, is on the sofa chastising poor Aunt Edna for not attending church regularly. Great-grandma can’t stop discussing her latest health issue, down to the gory details of her colostomy bag. Yippy, it’s Thanksgiving, a time for family.
While diet and exercise get the bulk of media attention around living a healthy life, stress reduction is another important topic that deserves attention as stress contributes to a host of physical problems and chronic diseases.
As we begin the holiday season, stress levels begin to escalate. And while time with family can be a wonderful thing, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Michael and I have been married for almost 15 years. While we have good relationships with both sides of the family, that doesn’t mean holidays have always been drama-free.
The following are our life lessons on how to enjoy a stress-free holiday.
Lower your expectations.
Every family is dysfunctional. The way the dysfunction manifests itself is unique to each family, but it’s there. Even The Brady Bunch was only perfect on camera. Behind the scenes Mrs. Brady was having an affair with Greg, Mr. Brady was hiding his homosexuality, and Marcia had a drug habit. Perfection doesn’t exist and expecting it from your family is unrealistic.
Expect Uncle Ralph’s stories of Vietnam, Cousin Suzy’s zest for all-things religious and conversations with great-grandma about her health, and have a plan for dealing with those situations. Accept the realities of your family—quirks and all—because no matter how hard you try, you cannot change your relatives. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.
Don’t be a part of the problem.
Another way to say this: keep your pie-hole shut. This tactic is easy for me, I come from a long line of conflict-avoiders. In most cases, burying your feelings is not productive, but the Thanksgiving table isn’t the setting to discuss personal disagreements with your mom, sister, uncle, or grandmother. And if they think it is, change the subject. Do not engage. Excuse yourself from the table if you have to, but bite your tongue, shove some turkey in your mouth and don’t take the bait. You can always spit on their food later. Or, if you’re more mature than me, engage in a healthy discussion of your differences in a more appropriate setting.
Create some opportunities for alone-time.
Go for a walk, read a book, go see the latest blockbuster at the theatre, get some Christmas shopping done. Whatever your pleasure, schedule some time apart. There’s no rule that says every moment must be shared with family. Everyone benefits from a little breathing room.
Plan and communicate your schedule ahead of time.
Sometimes it’s not the drama that’s stressful, it’s logistics. Many families have step-children, ex-husbands and ex-wives and coordinating the activities between all the various relatives feels like a scheduling problem only NASA could solve.
Don’t leave the plan for the day up in the air until the last minute. Get the schedule set ahead of time, including when you need to leave, and let everyone know in advance what to expect.
And if you are hosting the big meal, flexibility on timing will go a long way in easing the tension for those that are juggling multiple meals with several families. For example, the last several years, my family has celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday because it was more convenient for everyone involved.
Just say no.
If the entire production seems too daunting, bail completely. When Michael and I were first married and traveling full-time for our jobs, we told our families we wouldn’t join either of them for Thanksgiving. That was the one time of year we were taking for ourselves, a lovely four-day weekend to relax and reconnect.
With that I wish everyone a Happy, Stress-free Thanksgiving.
I won’t be posting any new blogs next week as I’ll be traveling with my family. In celebration of my mom’s 70th birthday the entire clan is headed to the eastern Caribbean for a seven-day cruise. I’ve packed my workout clothes, gym shoes, and will power. I think I’m ready.