Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are upon us and we should all be cheerful and thankful, right? Well, not so fast. The holidays, as we know, are also associated with lots of familial and other sorts of stress. In fact, in a survey conducted by Mental Health America, the most common sources of stress during the holidays are caused by chaotic and frantic schedules, concerns about finances and memories of loved ones who are absent from the family table.

Not surprisingly, women in this survey described feeling more stressed than the men. This is likely due to the multiple hats that women wear and their desire to make sure that the holidays go well in so many ways for so many people.

The survey also indicated that whatever we ordinarily find stressful becomes intensified during the holidays. This makes perfect sense to me. Most of us are stressed by certain family interactions and lack of interactions during ordinary days and significantly more so when we sit down at the Thanksgiving table.

Many of us regress and childhood patterns of behavior return. Consider the brother and sister who compete for mom’s attention just like they did as kids. Consider the competitive cousins who now compare their teenagers’ academic performance while the teens sit at the table and watch this dynamic. How about the woman who just lost her mother and can barely eat because her mother’s absence at the dinner table is particularly salient?

The goal, of course,is to make Thanksgiving as pleasant and as memorable as possible. Toward this end I have a number of survival tips. Take a look and pick and choose from among them.

1. Limit your alcohol intake. We all know that alcohol causes disinhibition and disinhibition makes you much more likely to say that thing that rubs someone sitting at the table the wrong way.

2. Try very hard to get adequate rest the night before. We are all more pleasant when we are rested.

3. Make an attempt to divide up the responsibilities so that no one family feels financially or otherwise overwhelmed by the holiday.

4. Try to keep things as fun and simple as possible. Your family is more likely to remember a good laugh than an elaborate dish.

5. Stick to less than controversial topics. Politics and finances are never the best of topics.

6. Watch your body language. You may not have snubbed someone with your words but you may do it with your body. Pay attention.

7. Lower your expectations. If you are expecting Thanksgiving to be perfect than you will likely be in for some disappointment. If you lower your expectations you may be pleasantly surprised.

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8. Remind yourself that you are at the Thanksgiving table to give gratitude and celebrate rather than to stress and compete.

I wish you a happy holiday and may you look forward to many more!

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