As Extension’s local health specialist, the holidays are an important time for staying on top of your health habits. But when we talk about health—we are talking about more than exercise and eating habits. Social and emotional health are equally important. Many people take the time around the holidays to spend more time with family. Social connections are critical to health, but sometimes family interactions can add more stress than benefit.
Consider ways to make sure your family get togethers are full of bonding and help rather than hinder your health this holiday season. Here is a quick list of holiday tips shared by USU relationship expert Dr. Dave Schramm.
First, a few “Don’ts”
Don’t talk politics or bring up other “hot topics.” Often the urge is to help family members “really understand” your position or understand why their position is irrational and wrong. Too often, this ends with slamming doors and someone crying in the bathroom or car.
Don’t be sarcastic, critical or give subtle jabs. These can cause emotions to escalate quickly, and can cause hurt feelings or resentment.
Don’t try to fix each other’s problems. Also, don’t discuss the problems of other family members who aren’t there. The holidays are not the time to suggest someone get out of a relationship, sell a house, be a better parent or start exercising.
Don’t take things personally. Some family members are more “prickly” than others, so choose not to get defensive. If someone does start fishing for a reaction, don’t take the bait.
Here are some “Do’s”
Remind yourself why you are doing it. You love your family, and ultimately, people are more important than problems or being right.
Ask others about their lives. Show interest in what they are doing, and don’t talk about yourself excessively.
When having meals together, take charge of seating. Set the table for success by separating conflicting personalities. Put the conspirators near you so you can put out fires and guide the conversation.
Get kids involved, but then turn them loose. Give kids age-appropriate tasks so they are involved. But they probably won’t enjoy being trapped for long periods of time and will likely get restless and whiny. It’s okay if they run off after helping or trying most of the foods at dinner. Don’t turn it into a battle.
Slow down a bit and take time to be kind. This can prevent hurt and promote more hope and happiness. Express appreciation often. And remember – the holidays won’t last forever, so throw kindness around like confetti!
These specific strategies can be really helpful to prevent or sooth stressful family moments, but it can all be boiled down into one simple principle. Remember your “why”. As you gather with family, remember why you are doing it and why it matters. These are the most important people in your life, and even when annoying, it’s worth the effort to give and gather the love.
For more information on relationship health you can visit extension.usu.edu/relationships where you will find tips, articles and access to classes on healthy dating and parenting education. Here at the local Tooele Extension office, we can help get you set up with classes to build your family connections for individuals or groups.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County Office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2409 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.