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UF experts give tips to lower stress during holidays, starting with Thanksgiving dinner

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Do you look forward to eating Thanksgiving dinner with your family? So much anticipation. There’s lots of cooking, eating and cleanup. A festive feast with loved ones—or is it?

Some families have one or more relatives whose behavior can be problematic at times, including during the holidays.

Heidi Radunovich, who has written an ASK IFAS document about how to manage holiday stress, offers solutions. “The simplest thing would be to not invite such a person if that is how they behave,” said Radunovich, a UF/IFAS associate professor of family, youth, and community sciences and a licensed psychologist. “If you invite such a person or knowingly attend a gathering in which they will be present, expect that they will behave as they have previously, and make a plan that works for you for when this will invariably happen, whether it be a distraction, ignoring or cutting the visit short. It’s also OK to skip a gathering to avoid this sort of situation and visit with family at another time.”

Radunovich urges some caution when spending time with family and friends during the holidays: There are family gatherings that could lead to more “together time” than we’re accustomed to and might lead to many people grouped in small spaces for long periods of time.

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Are religion or politics forbidden topics during the holidays?

“You know your family and probably know which topics could be problematic, if any,” Radunovich said. “Thinking ahead regarding how to deal with these topics if they arise or how to steer clear of them would be beneficial.”
The family meal is just one of the many factors that can lead to duress during the holidays.

Preparing yourself by planning ahead can help things go more smoothly, but just remembering that things don’t always go as expected and packing your patience is also helpful, Radunovich said.

As the holiday’s approach, it’s important to keep in mind the true reason for the season, which is spending quality time with the ones we love, said Nelly Nelson, family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County. “The holidays oftentimes make people feel the pressure to host the ‘perfect’ gathering, buy the ‘perfect’ gift, take the ‘perfect’ family photo, have the ‘perfect’ decorations and be the ‘perfect’ host, but perfection isn’t necessary to enjoy the holiday,” Nelson said. “Perfectionism is actually one of the leading causes of stress and anxiety, which can have negative effects on our relationships and our own mental health. We should focus on gratitude, making fun memories, passing down family traditions, and enjoying our time together.”

“Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate stressors and make the holidays a fun and relaxing time of year,” Nelson said.

Nelson adds these tips to help you have a stress-free holiday season:

Plan ahead: You can help avoid stressful arguments and hurt feelings about where, when and how to spend the holidays by planning ahead with friends, family and co-workers.

Stay calm if conflicts arise: If you or other family members get into a fight, do what you can to keep calm or regain everyone’s composure before moving forward. That may mean removing yourself from the situation for a while by going for a walk or engaging in some other soothing activity. When you come back, it will be easier to see another’s point of view and come up with creative solutions and compromises.

Focus on the positives: Inevitably, something will go wrong with our holiday plans—a flight will be delayed, cookies will get burnt or a gift will be out of stock. Don’t let these hiccups overshadow the positive aspects of the holidays, such as spending time with family and friends.

Heidi Radunovich, UF/IFAS associate professor of family, youth, and community sciences and a licensed psychologist. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Nelly Nelson, a family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

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