Linda Lewis Griffith

Leave your stress at home

Vacation season is upon us. Families are loading up the minivan or updating their flight status as they embark on the annual summer getaway.

While vacations can be exciting and provide opportunities for closeness and lasting memories, they can also be incredibly stressful. Your wallet is stolen at the train station. The car breaks down in Des Moines. All flights have been grounded in Atlanta.

As stress mounts, patience goes AWOL. People are tired and easily angered. Fights erupt like the geysers in Yellowstone. Folks may be in the midst of beautiful scenery, yet all they think about is, “I feel miserable.”

It’s easy to see why this happens. Vacations intentionally transport us from our everyday lives. We visit new places, eat new food and interact with new people. Such novelty requires constant adapting, which quickly drains our emotional stores.

Our mental and physical beings are often contorted in unnatural ways. We sit with hundreds of other passengers in an airplane for hours. We stay with friends at their cabin for six days. We drive cross country in a Volvo with an infant in the back seat.

Finally, normal stress-busting techniques are no longer available. We can’t go off and listen to music if we’re camping with three pre-schoolers. Nor can we sleep until 10 if we’re on a whirlwind tour.

Family dynamics only compound the stress. Tots are restless on the airplane. Kids argue in the back seat of the car.

Parents expend extra energy keeping everyone content.

Still, vacations are important for families. They expose children to new adventures and provide terrific opportunities to relate and share. Keep going on family outings. Just do your best to leave stress at home.

Tips for getting the most from your vacation

Need help making your vacations more manageable? Follow these guidelines:

Be on your best behavior. When traveling as a group, it’s important to maintain a low profile.

Keep track of your own sunglasses or backpack.

Be neat when you unpack at the hotel. Avoid being unnecessarily critical of your surroundings. Don’t gripe about the food. Your bad attitude is a contagion that can spread quickly if you’re not careful. Make smiles and a polite demeanor your top priority.

Tailor your trip to the ages of your family. Grade-schoolers are ripe for adventure, but younger children are happiest splashing in a swimming pool or going to a petting zoo. Elderly parents might enjoy quietly reading a book or attending a play. Accommodating everyone’s developmental stages means fewer frustrations and emotional meltdowns.

Allow for diverse interests. You love going to art museums, but your husband’s an on-the-go type of guy. Plan segments of your trip to include each of your interests so that no one feels left out.

Be a good sport. Remember to be supportive when your interest takes a back seat. If you can’t be cordial during a given situation, politely excuse yourself from the activity so you don’t ruin it for anyone else.

Limit time with relatives. It’s great to visit family. Still, be sensitive to how long you stay. Hosts can feel overburdened by too much company and guests can start chomping at the bit if they feel confined. Unless you’re in one of those rare, compatible clans that never tires of being together, it’s wise to keep visits short and sweet.

Don’t overreact to inevitable mishaps. Every trip has its unpleasant moments. The key is surviving them as best you can. Take a deep breath and remove yourself from aggravating situations. Resist blaming your loved ones, even if they’ve made a mistake. Your anger only compounds the problem.

Recover from disagreements quickly. Squabbles are going to happen when you travel with someone else. Don’t let them ruin the trip. Practice the 15 Minute Rule; after a disagreement, a family member has 15 minutes to be upset. After that it’s time to drop the matter and get back to the vacation at hand.

Avoid over-scheduling. Trying to do too much creates fatigue and raw nerves. If your trip is going well you’re able to manage it. When the inevitable snafu occurs, things are apt to come unglued. Limit the number of activities you do each day. Allow for ample times between them. Also, incorporate adequate time to each, relax and enjoy. After all, you’re on vacation.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit

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