Surviving the Holidays
Diana Martinez and Alex Garcia/San Fernando Valley Sun

25 November 2015

Ah, it’s that time of year again.

The traditional Thanksgiving — a celebration to “give thanks” surrounded by friends and family. It’s a time for reflection, to count your blessings with an overabundance of food that surrounds a stuffed turkey, the centerpiece of the very large meal.

This tradition and national holiday marks the feast first held in the autumn of 1621 with the Pilgrims and Native American Indians — the Wampanoag — following the colony’s first successful harvest. While historical news accounts differ and have even been controversial — Native American activist Russel Means in years prior to his death, threw red paint on Plymouth Rock — the holiday continues on as  the quintessential American holiday tradition.

Thanksgiving leading into the Christmas season can also mark both the best of times and a most stressful times as people attempt to emulate the picture perfect media ideal for a model family and perfect celebration.

But we all know that nothing is “perfect.” These gatherings can be a renewal of irritations and dealing with those who you don't see frequently because they can “push your buttons.”

“I always say my family puts the ‘funk’ in dysfunction,” described a local L.A. playwright (who shall go nameless).

“Friendsgiving”

Counselors warn that we can set ourselves up by hoping that our famillies will “act perfectly,” which can turn into disappointment when instead there is the same annual feast of crazy making while passing the yams. Sometimes it can be a behavior, a nosey question, or a mere word taken the wrong way that can set off a family  pattern of irritating each other.  

At a recent local literary event after reading her work, poet Luivette Resto announced that, with much of her family on the East Coast, she was having a “Friendsgiving” this year and was looking forward to preparing her family tradition to include Puerto Rican delicacies for the meal.

She said she was opening her home for friends and extended friends but with a caveat, “Only people with good energy can come, because if you don't, I'll have to sage you down at the door,” she laughed.

Center Yourself  

Because the hope that our families and even our friends will act perfectly — or even reasonably well — can set us up for frustration, counselors advise to take a few moments to center oneself and accept that even if people behave as they always have in the past, acknowledge and prepare yourself for that possibility and try not to “take the bait.” Choose to observe rather than react, but have a plan to set some boundaries that work for you.

You may want to stop in and visit another family for the holiday, and enjoy watching their dynamic. You may find that it is similar to your own, but because you aren't emotionally invested, you may find yourself amused.

Even under the best scenarios the holiday season can be stressful just because it’  a busy time pressured by “obligations.”

If you're hosting Thanksgiving, there’s the work of shopping, cooking and making sure the house is clean and in tip top shape to receive company.

If you’ve survived the Thanksgiving meal and want to continue the sprint, you can stay up or wake up at the crack of dawn to stand in line with hundreds of other crazy folks’ “Black Friday” shopping sales. Not only will you be sleep deprived, you’ll be fighting to keep your place in line to take a stab at purchasing discounted merchandise for the next mad holiday — Christmas.

Things aren’t much easier if you're traveling.

The Automobile Club of Southern California estimates 46.9 million Americans (3.5 in Southern California) will journey 50 miles or more between November 25 and 29 this year.Airports are no better. AAA estimates 3.6 million will travel by plane this holiday weekend, but may be subject to increased scrutiny with the U.S. State Department’s “travel alert due to increased terrorist threats” after the Paris attacks.

All this means that you may end up more tired after the holidays than when you began. Not to mention feeling the post mortem of a stinging pocket book should you spend more money than you should, and are fearing the arrival of thee credit card bill.

Take A Breath

In a column for the website “Psychology Today,” Karen Kleiman, a licensed Clinical Social Worker, recommends doing some basic, but most important things to avoid feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, guilty, angry and tearful — sentiments that often show up around this time for many of us.

First, you must rest and take a breath once in a while. Rushing will only get you so far.

If you have a lot of cooking ahead of you, delegate and accept help. Have your family  and others help you to prepare the feast. Get the husband involved too.

Don't eat or drink too much. “It’s funny how the holidays can play on one’s tendency to engage in addiction, opening a gate that says, ‘It’s okay. Enjoy! And pay later,” notes Steven Sussman, a professor of preventive medicine and psychology in the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

“Holiday cheer can be a tall order — from wolfing down 5,000 calories for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, to drinking a little too much egg nog, to vaping something that promises release and relief. Quality family time could be sucked into a TV marathon or other electronic medium,” he added.

Move Your Body

A good way to keep calories in check is to use a smaller plate, as long as you don’t keep going back for seconds. Eat slowly and savor every bite. And don’t linger around the food table.

Also take a walk after that large meal to help you not only digest the food you've consumed, but relax. Play a board game with your family, but try not to get too competitive. Have a cup of coffee and just sit and talk. And turn off your cell phone.

Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Health Equity of the Americas in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, also stresses the need to not only watch what you eat, but also what your kids put into their mouths.

“Too many cookies and sweets can make them more hyper, making it even more stressful to manage the stressors that come with the holidays. Keep lots of fresh-cut fruit in the house. Get rid of junk food and substitute with healthy snacks,” she suggests.

Stay On Budget

If you can’t avoid shopping altogether, the best way to make sure you don’t overspend is to create a holiday budget that includes travel and gift giving, and stick to it no matter what.

“If you plan to head to the stores in the pre-dawn hours the day after Thanksgiving, come up with a plan before you walk out the door,” said GreenPath Financial Wellness personal finance counselor Katie Bossler.

"Know who you are buying for, what you want to buy and how much you are willing to spend. So often we buy things because they are such a ‘good deal,’ but it really ends up being a waste of money. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need, just because it’s a good deal.”

Also delegate purchases to avoid rushing from one store to the next. Enlist a buddy or relative to help you schedule your purchases. One can take on one store, while the other peruses in another.

You Are Not Alone

The holidays can also be hard on those without close family members or friends. Depression and simply feeling “blue” can wreak havoc and can be a painful time on anyone who may be away from parents and loved ones.

“It’s helpful for these individuals to plan in advance. Swallow your pride and ask to join a friend’s family. You'll be glad you did once the holidays are here," said Adam Leventhal, director of the USC Health, Emotion & Addiction Laboratory in the Kick School of Medicine.

Wherever you wind up for the holiday, try not to take it all to heart.

Understand that we are all very imperfect and human. Try to have a few good hearty laughs that hopefully will encourage others to do the same. Lead a toast, set the tone, tell a few corny jokes and — despite what may swirl around you — enjoy yourself.

Stay Safe on the Road

According to the California Highway Patrol, 45 people died in collisions on California roadways over the 2014 Thanksgiving weekend – a 36 percent increase from the same period in 2013.

In addition, the CHP arrested almost 1,000 people for driving under the influence.

Here are some tips to help you arrive safely to your destination:

 — Prepare. Make sure your car is in working order. Check tires, windshield wipers, battery and make sure you put enough gas to get you where you're going.

— Stay off your phone! Anything that diverts your eyes or attention from the roadway, even for 1-2 seconds, could result in tragedy.

 — Don’t drink and drive. Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or more is illegal, but a driver with an even lower BAC may be judged a hazard and taken to jail.

— Leave early. Prepare for potential inclement weather by leaving early, allowing plenty of time to get to your destination. If you’re heading to mountain country or anywhere you may encounter snow, bring chains, a chain tightener tool, and warm, waterproof clothing.

Other items which may prove useful: flares, flashlight and strong batteries, small shovel, windshield scraper, blankets, drinking water and snacks.

Check in advance for road conditions by calling (800) 427-7623 or go to quickmap.dot.ca.gov.