Ah, Thanksgiving! A time of celebration, of gratitude and family get-togethers.

For some, getting together with extended family is a joyous tradition. For others, it’s joyous only some of the time. Not all family is created equal, however.

First, you’ve got your happy, upbeat family members and the helpful, courteous family members. Then there are your grouchy, never-satisfied, critical family members, the family members who sit back, eat and never help with anything, and the family members you dearly wish to forget – given their perpetual inappropriate remarks/jokes/pranks/drinking/etc.

 
 

And yet, there you are, all together – at least for however long the celebration lasts – and of course, it’s usually at your house.

Reality Check: Stress Kills

Some very intriguing research in Health Psychology shows that it’s not so much how often you experience stress that kills (as in leads to chronic inflammation, which can result in health problems such as cancer, heart disease and obesity) as it is our response to stress.

Few situations are more likely to stress us out than unhappy family experiences such as those we frequently encounter over the holidays, when we’re in forced proximity.

Let’s face it: You can’t very well run and hide in your bedroom when the family is gathered around your dining table. To boot, women are more prone to elevated levels of inflammation than men when/if they don’t deal well with stress.

Moreover, the facts show that inflammation tends to be more of a health issue as we get older. And so, the only possible conclusion is that in the interests of our health and well-being, and our longevity – not to mention our mental/emotional state!) – we, as women, must find ways to deal constructively with our stress. In this particular case, with the stress of those holiday family get-togethers.

Change Your Response

It’s your response to stress that will impair your well-being, especially in the face of situations or people you cannot change or ignore. This is true regardless of the cause of your stress. Changing your negative response to a positive one when a stressful situation arises will diminish the potentially damaging impact of the stress.

Take, for example, how Barbara Beskind, 92, who is legally blind due to macular degeneration, responded to her condition. As her disease progressed, and Barbara’s vision deteriorated, she could have bemoaned her fate and withdrawn from the world.

No one would have faulted her for feeling unhappy, depressed and of no further use to society. Instead, Barbara put her considerable talents as an occupational therapist to use.

At 89-years-young she sought out and consequently was hired by IDEO, a high-tech innovative design and consulting firm. Since then she has developed a number of products – specialized glasses, walkers and ski poles adapted to the needs of people suffering from vision and mobility problems.

Barbara’s situation may seem a far cry from dealing with Uncle Henry’s incessant, repetitive and often drunken diatribes at the Thanksgiving table. But the solution is the same. Don’t focus on Uncle Henry. Switch your focus to those at the feast whom you enjoy and are appreciative of your efforts.

Appreciate your own culinary skills, or your home decorating talents – whatever you contributed to the day. Be grateful that most of the guests are happy, pleasant people. Be grateful that you have the wherewithal to host a Thanksgiving Day, a roof over your head and all the other goodness in your life.

Barbara’s switching her focus from her blindness to helping others is a powerful de-stressor. Your switching your focus from whoever is a thorn in your side to those who put a smile on your face and lighten your heart is also a powerful de-stressor.

Switch your focus! Your immune system, your heart and your whole being will thank you.

How do you deal with unpleasant relatives at family gatherings? Do family get-togethers stress you out? Why? What do you do to keep calm when unruly family members are part of your gatherings? Please join the conversation below!

Noelle NelsonDr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including “Happy Healthy… Dead: Why What You Think You Know About Aging Is Wrong and How To Get It Right.” Please visit Noelle’s website.

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