Home for the Holidays

Holidays ideally represent generosity of spirit and comfort for all. However, oftentimes stress and anxiety surround what should be a time of festivities and a celebration of love. Why is that? And what can be done about it?

Expectations may be mismatched. How wonderful when family members eagerly anticipate the opportunity to nourish their relationship with a “no holds barred” attitude. When strength of character, trust, and unconditional love permits a light-hearted jump head-first into any discussion, regardless of depth – what fun it is to observe, engage, and enjoy! If, however, a more common “uncomfortable” scenario takes center stage, positive vibrations may be at risk.

Family members often have conflicting expectations. One is painfully quiet or shy, another is well-intentioned yet infamously “in-your-face,” a third is obnoxiously aggressive, judgmental or defensive, and a few simply prefer to avoid depth of discussion past the latest movie or favorite book. This group might do well together, until forced into an enclosed space with those who desperately want to reconnect.

What happens when guests who prefer to either remain invisible, pick a fight, or maintain superficiality find themselves next to those hoping to share, bond, confess, or bring attention to discussions neglected over time and space between gatherings? A potential explosion. What can you possibly do to preserve positive vibrations?

When guests with conflicting expectations are at the same function, you might take it upon yourself to quietly and privately, declare the gathering a “safe zone.” This may be a valuable intervention for those who are uncomfortable engaging, as well as for those who feel they must dive deeply. The key is to know whom to approach with this intervention.

Privately and in advance, suggest to the “closeness seeker” it might be best to avoid particular types of conversations. For example, if aware that one family member is sensitive about a decision to not have children, knowing the “closeness seeker” usually brings this up, you might suggest in private that this topic should be avoided. The old stand-by “rule” used to be to avoid politics, sex, and religion. Knowing sensitivities of guests at the gathering, you can craft your own rule to help honor the privacy of all family members who prefer to maintain emotional distance.

Remind the closeness seeker to not take the intervention personally. It isn’t all about them, but about honoring the sensitivity of others. Clue the closeness seeker in that those who maintain distance between holidays may need more space during this gathering, particularly regarding hot topics. You may point out there is a reason why people avoid contact. “Distance seekers” sometimes do so because of their own personal pain. Without gossiping or finger pointing, remind closeness seekers to remain open and non-judgmental, while offering enough free space to allow distance seekers to initiate contact, when and if they feel ready.

Safety and comfort are essential, particularly regarding food and environment. “The eyes eat first” means tables are set with festive colors, and food is decoratively prepared and arranged, with serving utensils to encourage sanitary sharing. I recommend ingredient cards placed near dishes not otherwise easily identifiable. This permits guests with sensitivities to discreetly choose what to eat and avoid.

The most comfortable room temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. For the chronically chilly guests, provide access to thin, warm shawls or throws. For the “hot flash” guests, provide a fan – either hand-held battery run or Japanese style paper fan, decorated in colors that fit the theme of the holiday. These touches bring smiles to faces of most. However, for the easily offended guest, seating near or away from the heat or cooling source might be best. Be sure to baby-proof your home if toddlers are expected, and handle your furry family members in deference to “animal sensitive” guests.

Bringing family together can truly be a celebration of blessings when all agree time shared is a safe-zone for mind, body, and spirit. Here’s to your holiday celebration filled with delicious food, loving interactions, and emotional safety for everyone.

Dr. Nancy Iankowitz is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and Director of Holistic and Integrative Healing LLC. She is also host of “Marcy’s World” on Pawling Public Radio. Email your questions to: driankowitz@yahoo.com. For more information, call (917) 716-6802, or visit www.driankowitz.com online.