As strange as this sounds, when I was younger, I loved working during the holidays. There was something nice about making rounds in the hospital during Thanksgiving and Christmas, about being with patients and doing something that felt worthwhile. I knew I was making a difference in someone else’s life. The hospital was pretty quiet on those days so I had more time than usual to chat with patients or hang out with a fellow resident. It was both satisfying and fortifying.
I noticed that many of the residents who had the holidays would return to work depleted and exhausted. They complained they had eaten too much, partied too hard or gotten in an argument with a loved one.
Now that I have a family of my own, I treasure and protect my time off. But I approach the holidays thinking about how to also protect my family’s and my health and mood. Here are nine strategies to make the holidays happy and healthy:
1. No couch potatoes
Even though your inclination is to stay inside and binge on Westworld or Stranger Things, you will be happier if you do stuff. Like…
2. Take a hike
Spending 20 minutes outside boosts your mood, broadens thinking and improves memory. It also reduces stress and rumination—those nonstop negative thoughts—and puts things in perspective.
3. Overdose on time
Doing things for others boosts happiness and is linked with greater life satisfaction, decreased stress, a stronger immune system including a greater cardiovascular health and decreased physical pain. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, deliver meals for Citymeals-on-Wheels, write a note to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. A bonus side effect is when you do things for others, you feel less rushed and your sense of time expands.
4. To connect, disconnect
Try a no cellphone, computer and device policy for a certain period – the mere presence of these devices can ruin a conversation, negatively impact relationships and is, quite frankly, just rude. And no, flipping your phone face-down on the table does not count.
5. Mollify — it’s a must
If an argument does flare up, ask the other person to explain their perspective in detail. Better yet, make an obscure reference to neuroscience – it’s a surefire way to win any argument. Something about the seemingly impenetrable mysteries of the brain seems to cause people to decide they don’t need to bother with critical thinking,
6. Expect more
Your beliefs about someone can influence behavior. This is known as the Pygmalion Effect (think My Fair Lady). If you think your uncle is going to act up again, chances are he will. Hope for the best.
7. Nights of the round table
People seated at a round table – as opposed to a rectangular or square one – get along better and are less likely to bicker. Not having a head of the table minimizes confrontation. Also, a bouquet of flowers on the table is not only attractive, it is also a stress minimizer. But keep it low enough that people can easily see each other over it.
8. Know what you don’t know
If you find yourself stuck next to someone uninteresting, instead of dwelling on how dull he or she is, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this person?” Here are some easy icebreakers: I need some good book suggestions; what was the last book you couldn’t put down? I love hearing how couples first met — what was your first date like?
9. Do thanks, don’t just say it
Think of gratitude as an action. It’s a verb that works best when it is embodied, spoken aloud and when it connects you to someone else.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman