by Alexandra Owens
Getty ImagesThe winter holidays are the most wonderful time of the year...or they're cringe inducing, stressful, and likely to drive you to the brink of insanity. We've gathered a few tips from the experts on how to deal with inevitable tensions.
Prepare for disaster. Hash out any issues in advance so they don't feel as raw when you ring the doorbell. "Call [your relative] a month before and say, 'I know we're bickering, but I can't wait to spend time with you. Let's figure it out before the holidays, or agree to disagree and pick it up again afterward,'" suggests Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. You'll avoid the stress of the conversation hanging over you while you're trying to enjoy the parade.
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Stay sober. Cap yourself at one, says Saltz. There's nothing quite like alcohol to make you ignore the olive branch and say things you might later regret.
Take a deep breath...of something you love. "Scents elicit an emotional response based on cultural beliefs or individual memories, and our bodies and brains respond accordingly," says Rachel Herz, a visiting professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and author of The Scent of Desire (William Morrow). Wear a perfume or lotion that studies have found to be calming--such as chamomile or lavender--to create a soothing effect.
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Don't vent. Once you've pulled out of your in-laws' driveway, you can call anyone you want. But while you're still in their zip code, try to contain your feelings--complaining could just make it worse. A study at the University of Missouri-Columbia monitored female friends after they'd discussed their woes and found elevations in their cortisol levels 15 minutes later, indicating that gabbing only increased tension.
Get out. Give yourself some alone time and leave the house. "Forget the idea that you have to spend every waking minute with your family, and instead plan to take a break for an hour or two every day," says Saltz. "Run an errand, take a nap, or go to the gym." Bonus if you fit cardio in there. Scientists believe that increasing tolerance of physical stress alters brain chemistry, boosting the ability to withstand emotional stress.
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