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How to Have a Stress-Free, Truly HAPPY Thanksgiving

If you’ve been feeling stress and dreading conflict this holiday, here are some tips to make this holiday more enjoyable.

Reduce Stress

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to increase the quality of your health. It might be too late to become healthy if you’re not in good health, but in the days leading up to travel and the holiday, it likely would not hurt to take a few smart precautions. (Please consult with your doctor for approval on any changes to diet, exercise, and major life changes.) Few doctors would tell you to avoid healthy food and sleep, and if your doctor has told you to follow a healthier diet and to get plenty of sleep, it is time to take heed of his or her advice.

When we are not in optimal health, it’s common to react to most stimuli as a threat. It’s part of our human nature, and it triggers our “fight or flight” mode. Poor health makes your body feel as though it is under attack. In this condition, facing any difficult situation can be interpreted as a threat.

Getting enough sleep can be difficult when traveling, so make it a priority, and avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before you plan to sleep (if possible). Click here for additional tips to get more sleep.

Change your expectations

If you are expecting everything to go perfectly, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Certain variables are simply beyond your control.

Be as proactive as possible; plan for problems. Think about the worst case scenario, and how you would handle the disappointment.

Air travel is a notoriously undependable part of the equation during the holidays. Your flight may be canceled, you could get “bumped” to another flight, or your luggage could get lost.

The FAA and TSA have created guidelines for what items are not allowed on the plane. People are often surprised after arriving at the airport that they cannot bring a pet in a certain type of carrier. Toiletry items must be in certain types of containers and cannot exceed specific amounts. (Click here to visit the FAA/TSA’s list of allowed and prohibited items.) Contact your airline ahead of time to make special travel arrangements for pets and large luggage.

You have a CHOICE to focus on the good times

If there’s a certain relative you despise, dwelling on every unpleasant thing about them can get in the way of the joy of enjoying time with your most cherished loved ones.

Focusing on problems such as unpleasant situations is a common part of human nature. It’s part of your brain’s tendency to think of ways to solve a problem. Your desire to solve problems is a good trait, but it can backfire when you choose to focus on things that are beyond your control. You can’t make a rude relative decide to be nice, but you can be nice to them and minimize your time with them.

So, remember—even though your brain’s default setting is to dwell on problems, you have a choice to focus on what you enjoy about the holiday.

Purposefully navigate unpleasant interactions

In a large enough group, you’re bound to have at least one busybody who pesters relatives for the way they have chosen to live their lives. Some nosy relatives like to corner the relative and partner of a couple who aren’t married. They have a thousand reasons why the childfree/childless married couple should have children. They think they’re being helpful by policing every morsel of food on your plate. There’s probably a retired factory worker with a pension, who got his job right out of high school who thinks he knows everything about getting a job in today’s economy.

(If any of those examples sound like you—stop NOW! No one wants to be around the person who gives  unsolicited advice. If someone wants your advice, they’ll ask for it. Accept the fact that it is unlikely you will ever be asked for the advice you enjoy giving.)

Busybodies usually have their minds made up about any particular issue, and no matter what you say, it’s unlikely you can change them. This is one of those variables that simply is out of your control.

The best approach is to manage the situation with a smile; not allowing the intrusion to spoil your good mood. These two methods work very well without being confrontational.

Change the subject: Think if a topic your relative would enjoy discussing. He or she may be interested in a particular hobby or pastime. One of the best topics for this purpose is their favorite sports team. The idea is to make them think of something they find pleasant. (If this sounds a bit like distracting a child with something shiny…you get the hint.) If this doesn’t work, bringing up a relative who was unable to attend could distract them.

That’s personal/No comment: For example, in the history of mankind, it is unlikely anyone ever decided to have children simply because their relatives constantly bugged them about it. Yet childfree/childless couples across the land will be badgered by busybodies this holiday season. Whatever one’s reasons are for not having children—choice, or infertility, it is likely due to deeply personal reasons. The first half of one of the best responses to this type of intrusion is: “That is a personal issue, and I hope  you can understand that I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.” This will not always work the first time, but by repeating this phrase a few more times, the offending relative should get the hint.

Keep in mind that if someone is giving unsolicited advice, it’s usually because they feel they’re right about something and they’re trying to change your mind. If they get brushed off, they’re likely to feel offended. By making them feel valued, you can usually get them to stop trying to control your life. 

This is accomplished by shutting down their badgering, and switching the conversation to a new topic—as explained in “Change the subject”.  The childfree/childless couple in the example used “That is a personal issue, and I hope  you can understand that I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.” as the first half of their response. The second half, which is changing the subject could be: “When we do have a child, it’s good to know we can count on your advice.” This is a clear sign to the bothersome busybody that their advice can be valued—in a different way.

Not the best time for confrontation

Some people use the holidays as a time to dredge up the past, since the family is present. Forgiveness can be difficult, and when family is concerned, incidents that have caused pain have created a wound that happened many years ago, which has never healed.

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things you will ever do, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Essentially, forgiveness does not mean that what the other person did to you was OK—it means you have decided you will no longer be angry about it.

Discussing issues from the past in anger, especially when everyone else wants to have a good time, is unlikely to bring about a good outcome.  It is somewhat possible that this could bring about some kind of catharsis, an apology, some change in the person who wronged you. But it is more likely that it will start a fight and ruin the holiday for yourself and everyone else present. There is a time and a place for difficult conversations, and a holiday family reunion is usually not the right time for that place. Consider the fact that you could call or visit the person against whom you have a grudge at another time. You also don’t need to tell the other person you forgive them. Your forgiveness should not depend on receiving an apology.

Call CrossRoads at 317-842-8881 for more help with holiday stress and forgiveness.