February 29, 2016

A friend of mine recently commented that she rated her family a 3 out of 5 for drama-related holiday issues. As she mentally prepared herself for her annual Thanksgiving visit, she described anticipating the following predictable scenes: her classic, sweet but “over-indulging” uncle largely ignored until his alcohol-fueled antics end up being mean and hateful, the dueling culinary aunts who constantly criticize each other’s cooking while snidely remarking on all of the dishes, and political arguments by opinionated relatives whose lack of facts would be hilarious except for the constant threat of violence and tension.

C’mon, we’ve all been there. Simply put, there are times when holiday gatherings are not fun and joyous but remind you of how dysfunctional your family actually is. If you are lucky, and can find a trusted sibling, cousin or spouse to share your amazement or disgust then a simple declaration to validate your experience can be a relief. However, if you find yourself thinking… “Am I the only one who feels like there is something seriously wrong with these folks?” then read these tips.

  1. Reflect on past experiences. Examine what worked and what didn’t. If sleeping arrangements left you cranky and tired, think of an alternative. Shorten your trip or bunk somewhere else.
  2. Have an attitude of gratitude. Yeah, they may be annoying, but it’s your family.
  3. Resolve previous differences. It is not helpful to go home for the holidays to rectify an old disagreement. Make a phone call, send a text, write a letter with the intention of smoothing out any misunderstanding before you go.
  4. Look for the humor. Try not to take everything so seriously. Sometimes you just have to laugh and say, “It is what it is”.
  5. Exercise. Take your gear, plan to workout, and organize a family walk or active game. It’s a great stress-buster and if nothing else you will feel energized and more optimistic.
  6. Invite a friend. Friends can offer a new perspective on your family and help create a more positive context.
  7. Organize an event that creates a memory. For example, create a cookbook. Ask relatives to donate stories or recipes to share with each other. Take pictures and make a photo album to share.
  8. Be yourself. These are folks who love and support you, no matter what. Relax and reconnect with your roots.
  9. Set your own ground rules. Don’t’ allow yourself to be baited into behavior that is out of your character.
  10. Keep a positive mindset. When presented with comment that may seem hurtful, ask yourself, “What’s another way to look at that?”

Holiday gatherings can be stressful but also rewarding. Stay focused on the true meaning of the holiday by being thankful and having a goal of creating meaningful memories. If you still have holiday gathering angst, then smile and realize that you are not alone.

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Janet Taylor, MD

Dr. Janet Taylor is a Community Psychiatrist in New York City, the Bronx and Queens. The practice of Community Mental Health is extremely rewarding to Dr. Taylor, because "being on the frontline with individuals and their families battling the emotional and economic impact of Mental Illness is where I can make a difference". She attended the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky for Undergraduate and Medical School. An internship in Internal Medicine at the Miriam Hospital-Brown University followed. Her psychiatric residency was completed at New York Medical College -Westchester Medical Center. She received a Master’s of Public Health in Health Promotion/Disease Prevention from Columbia University. She was a recipient of the 2008 Woman in Medicine Award (National Medical Association- Council of Women’s Concerns).

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