We all have those family members who can make our blood boil. A new study has come out, just in time for the holidays no less, that says strained family relationships are a major contributor to chronic illness.
As the holidays near and you may be faced with spending time with family members that make your blood pressure rise, it’s essential to know how to minimize their impact on your health. That brother-in-law who won’t shut up about politics or your picky, judgmental sister could even be more damaging to your health than any strain with your spouse.
Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, Sarah Woods, the study’s lead author, said, “Family strain was far and away the most significant factor associated with chronic conditions from headaches to stroke.” The results also indicated that the association was not found between partners or spouses.
Overall health tended to be worse for participants in the study who reported family strain, and the more strain they had, the more chronic health conditions they suffered. With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, the time might be high to start focusing on stroke risk factors including high cholesterol and inactivity.
But preparing your heart with lifestyle measures will only help you absorb the difficulty a little better. The best approach might be to get help in your relationship with the troubling family members. In the short-term, it may be avoiding them when you can—if they are in the television room, try to situate yourself somewhere else in the home. At the table, sit a fair distance away and engage in conversation with the people closest to you, and try to avoid steering conversations in directions that may get you riled up. If they broach a painful topic, attempt to practice mindfulness and calm, so you don’t get involved.
The long-term strategy, however, is more important. If you can’t talk to the family member directly about your problems—which can go all the way back to your years as a child—seek professional help. Learning to clear the air, or at least cope with the issue, may do a lot more than take the load off your shoulders and make holidays easier. It could reduce the risk for stroke, high blood pressure, and a number of other chronic illnesses.