Do the holidays bring you more anxiety than joy? Do verging political views, differing lifestyle choices, or rivalries make your family holiday gatherings feel like a bed of dry tinder ready to spark? You’re not alone. Last year 90 percent of participants in a nation-wide “Holiday Stress Index” survey said the holidays cause them stress and anxiety, and 77 percent said conflict is an inevitable part of their holiday gatherings.
As much as we love them, family members can be an incredible source of tension, especially this time of year, when fantasies about perfect holidays can come into a collision course with reality – at the dinner table.
If you’re expecting more protraction than pleasure at your holiday gathering, here are a few surefire tension tamers:
1. Serve something soothing
Some herbalists call lemon balm the “herb of good cheer”. A friend of mine swears that every time she serves it to her difficult mother-in-law, within an hour, they’re getting along great. It may be worth a try. Lemon balm eases stress and anxiety, aids digestion, assuages head-aches, and increases concentration. In other words, it’s the perfect drink for a tense holiday gathering. You can buy it in bags or in the bulk section of most health food stores.
Other good bets: oat straw, chamomile, or catnip.
2. Replace competitive board games
If your sister-in-law is more competitive than Vince Lombardi, or your annual game of charades always leaves someone in tears, it might be time to introduce entertainment that encourages a more harmonious spirit. Family Pastimes, a Canadian company, sells board games that foster co-operation and teamwork. They’re challenging, but everyone works together toward a goal rather than going head-to-head against each other.
Conversation starter cards are another way to encourage civility instead of conflict. Each card has a provocative question to jump-start lively dialogue. You can buy them here. Or you can make them yourself. Here are a few samples, to give you an idea of the kind of open-ended questions you’ll want to ask.
3. Introduce humor
In 1979 Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a rare debilitating disease, and he was given almost no chance to live. But he recovered with his own self-created therapy. His medicine? Laughter. He watched Marx Brothers comedies, “Candid Camera”, and other goof-ball comedies. He documented that a ten-minute belly laugh gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Now just imagine what it could do for your stressful holiday gathering. Ask everyone to bring a joke. Tell funny stories. Watch a funny movie. Laugh.
4. Get outside
Numerous studies show that viewing or getting out into nature helps us relieve stress. In one study, surgical patients randomly assigned to a room with a view of trees required less pain medicine, healed faster, and were discharged sooner. So after dinner, why not head outside for a relaxing walk around the neighborhood? You’ll probably all feel better when you get home.
5. Simplify gift-giving
What was the biggest source of stress for participants in that “Holiday Stress Index” survey? You guessed it. Gift-giving. Fifty-six percent of people said they feel cash-strapped around the holidays. If gift-giving is something you dread, or if it feels like it’s a competitive sport in your family to see who can spend the most, simplifying your gift-giving tradition will probably relieve a lot of tension. Paring down the presents doesn’t have to feel like deprivation. There are lots of fun and creative alternatives to traditional gift-giving. Last week, I shared 10 ideas here.
Warning: you’ll probably want to suggest any big changes to your gift-giving tradition for next year, since some people finish their Christmas shopping before now (or at least that’s what I’ve been told).
More thoughts on this subject:
- How to Get Along With Family – Better World Blog
- Avoiding Family Stress and Conflict During the Holidays – Communication Currents
- Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: 10 Tips for Coping – The Mayo Clinic
- Keeping Your Cool at Family Holiday Gatherings – Parent Dish
- Holiday Traditions That Raise Happiness – Greater Good