My five-year-old nephew (all names in this blog removed or changed to protect privacy), once remarked that he could not wait for the “holler” days. It was reasonable that he believed the title was holler days, as at gatherings in in my large Tennessee family to be heard, one had to holler!
But there is another form of hollering that often accompanies the year-end holidays. Hollering, or yelling, is often a sign of family discord. What is meant to be the happiest time of family love is often a time of tension and conflict. How can one remain or regain a sense of peace in the family?
Here are a few strategies to reduce the holler in your holidays:
Easy on the eggnog
While it may seem that drinking alcohol relaxes you – it also lowers inhibitions, including the inhibition to express potentially conflict-provoking statements. Some should avoid alcohol all together – make sure your parities have attractive alternatives to alcohol. Others may want to reduce the alcohol consumed – alternating non-alcoholic with alcoholic beverages may be a good idea – or making a punch that has more fruit juice and less alcohol may be considered. You can still have a sip of champagne at New Year – without consuming the whole bottle.
Get plenty of sleep
Humans are light sensitive. Though we do not hibernate like bears, we may need more sleep when the days are shorter (late December). Adjust your schedule to allow you to sleep more than you do the rest of the year. A bit more sleep may help everyone have more energy and feel less agitated. If you wake early – take that time to relax, meditate, pray or take a walk.
Plan private time
One reason the holidays can be stressful is that there is more time with family than usual. You many need to plan some alone time to relieve the overwhelm of being around others for extended periods. Arrange to go to a movie, tell others you are sleeping late today and will miss the family brunch, but will be there in the afternoon, plan to visit an old friend if you are visiting from out of town, or simply state “I have other plans” and leave it at that.
Recognize and be alert to historical patterns of conflict
Is there a ruckus every year about how to cook the turkey? If so, you can predict that there will be one again this year. Develop awareness of the conflict, or even preemptively address it. For example: “I know we both have strong feelings about how to cook the turkey – let’s follow your method this year, and try mine next year.”
Focus on connection
Put your energy into conversation that connects you. Plan conversation starters that focus on connection. If you have strong political differences with Uncle Dan – ask about how he and Aunt Betty (your favorite Aunt) fell in love. Do not ask Uncle Dan about the recent election!
It’s important to recognize that, even if the holidays are historically a time of conflict, that there are things you can do to contribute to a more peaceful time. While you cannot guarantee everyone will be more loving and joyous, you can calm yourself.
May there be smaller holler in your holidays!
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.