As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, family drama is always a topic of concern and trepidation. For some, this is the time of year when families spend time together who haven’t seen one another in the other 364 days of the year. Preparing mentally, and physically in some cases, can help keep expectations under control and make the day a memory-making experience rather than one that sends us into a panic attack. Here are 7 steps you can adopt to help your holiday run more smoothly:
1. Keep expectations under control. Remind yourself that there are no perfect families, perfect siblings, or perfect aunts and uncles. Everybody has crazy in their family. Instead of dreading the crazy, regulate your expectations. Remind yourself of the normal pattern of the person and this will cause you less anxiety.
2. Value the relationship over being right. Try going into the event with planned questions that facilitate lighthearted communication: “What is one holiday tradition that you love?” “Have you tried any new recipes lately?” Try to find a mutual topic of interest for you both such as home improvements or craft projects you’ve been working on. Know the type of communication topics that cause issues and stay away from them. The holiday isn’t the time to convert your family to your political agenda, your faith, or your social programs. Try questions that help you understand the person and their life better. If an issue is bothering you, consider setting up a one-on-one lunch after the holiday dinner to discuss.
3. Keep intimidation under control. Know-it-all relatives abound in families. Certain strengths, while in the basement, can appear to know a lot of worthless information. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter than you, just that they have time and a voracious appetite to learn new topics. When you see this information as a resource for you rather than an annoyance, it could be like having a mini college session at the kitchen table.
4. Have a kind comeback ready for those awkward questions. “When are you guys going to have kids?”, “When are you going to go back to college and finish your degree?”, “Have you met any husband material?” These questions and many others will come up. Have a kind comeback ready AND a new question to ask to avert the attention from you to them. “No one of interest has surfaced yet, Aunt Jeannie. How is your new job going?” This last part is important because it deflects the attention from you back to the other person. People love talking about themselves and this will certainly help your case.
5. Exercise. Sounds like the last thing most people want to do on this gluttonous holiday, but exercise is proven to release positive endorphins, lower stress, and help relieve anxiety. Get up first thing and get in a good walk or run, leave after the meal and walk off some turkey and tension, or excuse yourself early from the occasion and walk to relieve your stress. This will certainly help your processing in all types of ways.
6. Remember where you are and where you are NOT. Many couples choose to spend time with one side of the family over the other side. Be sure and communicate value to the side missing in your day. A quick phone call to wish them a great day, to say how you are thankful for them, or to communicate your love for them will go a long way to cutting tension during the next holiday. Life is short. Remember that people will not always be here to receive your phone call.
7. Be grateful. “I have never met a grateful depressed person.” Thankfulness produces stronger immune systems, higher levels of positive emotions, more optimism and happiness, and more helpful, generous, forgiving, and compassionate living. Thankfulness lowers blood pressure, reduces bothersome aches and pains, and makes people feel less lonely and more outgoing. Don’t allow your jealousy over your cousin’s new car to wreck what GOOD you have in your own life.
My hope is that one of these 7 items might help your holiday season to be rich in relationship building and low in conflict. I hope it will be a day to cherish for you all. Happy Thanksgiving!