Jonathan Alpert, Contributor
Licensed psychotherapist, executive coach, columnist, and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days”
11/20/2017 09:57 am ET As we approach Thanksgiving, family dramas and conflicts that have been kept at bay will inevitably resurface and issues will be stirred up. This is the time of the year when we feel obligated to see people we wouldn’t normally choose to see the other 364 days of the year. As such, I get an influx of patients consulting me for stress directly related to the holiday. This stress can have a profound impact on one’s health, mental well-being, and ultimately their work performance. I’ve provided seven steps for safeguarding against Thanksgiving stress and family dramas.
Here’s how to keep your cool and enjoy the holiday:
1. Don’t buy into the belief that you have a “perfect family” or that the holiday will be “perfect.”
Doing so only sets you up for disappointment as most families are not perfect and most holiday gatherings usually run into some sort of hiccup. By adjusting your expectations you’ll less likely be disappointed and stressed should something not go according to plan and you’ll also take the pressure off yourself.
2. Don’t bring up and participate in conversations that historically have proven to be sensitive.
Doing so is asking for trouble. For example, if you know there are hard core Republicans in your family and you’re a die-hard Democrat, try to avoid getting too involved in a discussion about President Trump. Keep it light and avoid hotly debated topics. Also, stand clear of sensitive topics such as a divorce in the family or other emotion-laden topics. There are plenty of other subjects that are much safer. Go equipped with safe topics and positive speaking points.
3. Don’t feel that you have to win the argument.
You might do so, but at what cost? Keep in mind the possible ramifications of pushing your points. Ask yourself, is it worth it to win the battle but lose the war?
4. Don’t feel intimidated by know-it-all relatives.
Every family has one…or more. Dealing with them is simple: ignore them. Doing so eliminates the audience they usually crave. If they don’t get the reinforcement they seek, then they’ll eventually get tired of hearing themselves talk and will stop.
5. Don’t feel obligated to participate in a conversation with pushy and intrusive relatives who think they know best.
At the core, relatives usually want what is best for you. They want to see you get married, have kids, and have a good career – but they probably don’t know exactly what you deal with on a daily basis so it’s easy for them to dish out advice or tell you what to do. To avoid getting upset by this, simply acknowledge their concern, thank them, and move on to a new subject. So it may go like this: “Uncle Dave, I appreciate your concern, but please know I am doing what is best for me right now.” “Where will you and Aunt Betty be vacationing next Summer?”
6. Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption.
Drinking in excess will lower your inhibitions which could potentially fuel arguments, diminish your mood, and make you feel lousy. Only drink what you know you can handle, not what you think you can handle.
For many people exercise is the best form of dealing with stress and maintaining good mental health. Make sure you include it during your holiday, especially if you’re eating more than you normally do. That may mean excusing yourself to go for a run or walk. Do it even if people look at you funny. Better that than to feel miserable.
So, by being mindful of what to say and what not to say you’ll be doing your part to keep the peace around the Thanksgiving dinner table.