How to find patience with family during Thanksgiving

November 16, 2017 Providence Health Team

Why those awkward dinners mean more than you think

We’ve all had our fair share of frustrating family holidays. As much as we hate to admit, the idea of visiting loved ones we haven’t seen in months is a joyous prospect – until it isn’t. Instead of wishing you chose Friendsgiving this year, here are some reasons why those awkward family dinners can actually do more good for your mental health than you think:

Thanksgiving equals gratitude

Gratitude does many wonderful things for our mental health. Most importantly, it puts things back into perspective and helps us appreciate the good things we have in life. Try mentally listing out what you are grateful for during your next stressful holiday. It will help relieve some of the stress you’re feeling and reframe your outlook.

Affection boosts mood

Touching and hugging can release certain feel-good endorphins in our bodies, and if your family is an affectionate crowd, you’re in luck. Instead of ducking hugs this year, embrace the ones you love for a quick mood boost.

Delicious smells improve digestion

If the conversation at the dinner table is starting to pitch, focus on the scents wafting around the dinner table. Surprisingly enough, digestion starts in the brain, resulting in saliva in the mouth and the release of certain stomach acids needed for digestion. So, if you can’t enjoy the company, you can at least enjoy the food.

Cooking is therapy

Culinary therapy is a growing treatment at multiple mental health clinics, for good reason. Cooking promotes mindfulness and diminishes anxiety over past or future problems. It also makes you appreciate what you put on the table – and in your body. 

Chances to reconnect

If you live far from home and have noticed feelings of abandonment, neglect and isolation due to non-communication with family members, now is your chance to re-establish that bond and rediscover what you have in common with each other. 

While these are all great reasons to make it home for the holidays, you’re probably thinking it’s easier said than done. Here’s how:

Make a plan

Before you even open the door, have an action plan. Decide where you’ll sit, how you’ll respond to certain people and how you’ll deal with certain irksome behaviors. This will mitigate some of the negative feelings you’ll experience before you start comparing the evening to previous holiday disasters.

Go with the flow

Not everyone is perfect, and for your family’s sake, go a little easy on them this year. It doesn’t matter if someone forgot to dress the turkey or if your brother is making unsavory jokes. Ignore the mistakes, and try to enjoy the evening for what it is.

Be kind to yourself

If your family is getting on your case again, don’t revert back to childhood habits and start doubting yourself. Remember that the holidays are a perfect time to practice self-love and positivity. Even if you don’t like what they are saying, recognize that you are now an adult and have the power to decide how you want to be impacted by negative comments.

Know your triggers

The last thing you need is to have a full-blown argument over the holidays. Before you engage in conversation, know what behaviors will set you off so you can plan how you will deal with them. 

Have a coping strategy ready

It’s reasonable to want to have some quiet time in the midst of all the chaos. If you need to take a walk in order to relax and unwind, feel free. If you need to take deep breaths, excuse yourself and head to a quiet part of the house. Whatever your coping mechanism is, don’t be afraid to use it.

We all have different ways of dealing with stressful family situations. However, knowing how to approach them and preparing can result in a less frustrating, more rewarding Thanksgiving holiday. How do you deal with family drama? We would love to hear from you.

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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