How to Stay Sane Through the Holidays (Even Around Your Family)

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Amusing tips on dealing with family and holiday stress, from an expert in conflict management.

The holiday season is upon us, when families gather together to make each other crazy. Here's how to stay sane anyway.

1) You're a competent human being, yet two hours before dinner you can't find your shoes, your to-do list, or the extra pan of stuffing.

Tension has sent your adrenaline soaring, so your brain starts to malfunction. You lose things in plain sight. You can't remember where you put something down two minutes before. You run in circles doing everything at once and you burn dishes you have cooked perfectly for years.

Stop. Breathe. You're experiencing a biochemical overload. Any large muscle movement will break up the adrenaline, so do something physical. Haul out the trash. Lift the turkey. Quick scrub down the top of the stove.

If someone else is starting to lose it, have them haul the trash or carry the turkey. Think of something you simply must have at the top of the house and have them dash up the stairs to get it. After they've done some running around, they're likely to come back saner.

2) Last year your brothers argued for hours about cars. This year they argued about electronics. They're accountants— they don't know anything about cars or electronics.

They're fighting over who's the alpha male. The alpha male is supposed to be strongest and smartest, which is why they won't admit when they don't know something and will make up facts when they haven't a clue.

Don't worry about them, they're probably having fun. If they get too heated, turn on the cam-corder and tape that show of brotherly love. That should cool them down.

Females, incidentally, don't fight like this because they don't use strength to set status. This leaves sisters free to spar about the important things, like who gained the most weight.

3) Everyone's on a diet, yet you go through mountains of food.

Food is a universal glue. Family and friends eat together. Enemies do not. This message appears in nearly every culture around the world, and is so powerful it saves lives in hostage situations. Psychologists have found that when a gunman and hostage eat together the gunman is less likely to hurt the hostage.

Eating together is a way to bond a family, and it's harder to bond over dry crackers and low-carb toast. The calories can be worth it.

By the way, if you have a family bridge to rebuild, do it just after everyone's fed, perhaps when you're working together clearing dishes. It's a great time for mending fences.

4) No matter how many times things have gone wrong in the past, we think this year, somehow, things will go right.

The good thing about families is that you always get a second chance. If things didn't go right for you as a kid, you can try to do better with your own kids. If things fell apart for your kids, you can try again with the grandkids.

You can't change your own past, but you can build a good past for someone else. That's not a bad way to repair the damage.

About the author: Andra Medea is the author of Conflict Unraveled: Fixing Problems at Work and in Families. She developed this remarkable system while teaching at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

Articles about her have appeared in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. She has appeared as a repeat guest on WGN radio and NPR's WorldView.

"... a nationally recognized expert...a superb sense of humor...complete and very highly recommended..." -- Midwest Book Review

She is available for interviews. Call her at 773-561-1512 or write her at For more information please visit

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