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Did Your Thanksgiving Come with a Side of Family Drama?

How to cope with the aftermath of a stressful holiday with family

Even with the best of intentions, the holiday season can become a time of high pressure for families. For those of you experiencing a hangover-like effect in the aftermath of family drama, perhaps you will find little comfort in this refrain, but I will offer it nonetheless: you are not alone.

A simple Google search of "family stress holidays" yields nearly 30 million results! Common article topics include tips on how to combat family stress during the holidays. Up there with family, other common sources of friction during the holidays include what one website refers to as fantasy, food and finances. All of these stressors, of course, link back to stress triggered by our families.

Fantasy is a good starting point. Many of us may feel pressure that everything be perfect when we are visiting our loved ones or hosting the festivities. This disconnect between what we imagine the holiday with our family should be versus how it actually is may trigger conflict within the family or even dissatisfaction. One way to combat this potential trigger to family conflict may be to let go of your expectations and let each day with your visitors unfold organically. Enjoy spending the time you have with family and friends during the holidays without feeling the need to schedule every moment or abide by a certain picture of how things have to be. It doesn't have to look like a postcard for you to experience a joyful holiday season with your loved ones. In fact, sometimes, the messier the better!

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Some experts contend that the holidays make us feel stressed out because we don't feel in control: our regular routine may be disrupted by family tradition, which oftentimes gets swallowed by what feels exclusively like family pressure. Realizing that your main obligation is to spend quality time with loved ones and just be present may enable you to discard heightened expectancies and again, to just be in the moment.

Even with the best of intentions, oftentimes family conflict may come to the surface when we least expect it as we gather around for the holidays. When this occurs, try not to define the time spent with family by those missteps. The best you can do: try to become mindful of what serves as triggers for conflict so that you can become less reactive the next time a similar situation arises. So just in case there was a turkey drum or two flying at the table this Thanksgiving, don't let this discourage you from attending the rest of the holiday events scheduled with your family this year. As long as it is just a side course rather than the main dish, family drama can help facilitate bringing otherwise neglected issues to the surface in time to expose and resolve before the next family event. Besides, the very people that may have triggered stress for us this holiday season are also likely the ones we were most grateful for on the day of Thanksgiving. Such is the Catch-22 of familial love, and one we should try to remember our gratitude for even in the midst of all that drama.

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2011

Azadeh Aalai, PhD, is a Tenure-Track, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Queensborough Community College in New York.


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