It happens every year: You pack up your last-minute gifts (like a pro), head to your hometown for the holidays, settle in for maximum family time…and then, when you get back to your apartment a few days later, you feel completely worn-out—as if you never really got away.
Well, there’s now a term for that: family jet lag.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Adam Fried, who spoke with the New York Times about the topic, that specific stress (think feelings of dread, spiking cortisol levels, and major exhaustion) is due to spending time with people you don’t normally see. As nice as it might be to get to catch-up with your grandfather or niece, holiday gatherings are a disruption to your usual day-to-day routine.
“Many times we may not even realize the level of our anxiety—or the resulting consequences, like extreme fatigue—until well after the event has passed,” says Fried.
“Many times we may not even realize the level of our anxiety—or the resulting consequences, like extreme fatigue—until well after the event has passed”
Though it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want to see your family, there is usually pressure to get along and have drama-free holiday celebrations. You’re also surrounded by people who you don’t normally speak with face-to-face, so having all of these people together under one roof can lead to tensions (not to mention tough dinner-table conversations).
Fried’s clients describe these feelings as “an overwhelming, pit-of-their-stomach sense of dread and avoidance,” according to the article. Sound familiar?
“Often it’s easiest just to fall into the same patterns of interacting with family, even if these are emotionally destructive,” says Fried. “Indeed, the hardest part can be establishing—and sticking to—new responses and behaviors.”
Aside from the major way to make the holidays less of a headache—developing new communication patterns—there are small changes you can make that could have a big impact. Getting enough sleep is one. Keeping up your healthy routine—like your a.m. run—is another. Practicing mindfulness will help you stay grounded, even when your dad brings up the inauguration.
But the best thing to remember? There’s always next year to try again.
Serenity now: Here are seven meditation apps to help you kick-start your practice. Or try these micro-steps for getting more zzz’s.