By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN — It’s New Year’s resolution time, and mine is to be less stressed out in 2011. If the end of 2010 is any indication, I have a fantastic head start.
This Christmas, my husband and I decided to celebrate our first holiday as a married couple by inviting both our mothers to fly in to spend a week in our one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
My mom took the air mattress, my mother-in-law got the couch, and we slept in the bedroom surrounded by gifts, wrapping paper, unused ornaments, suitcases, and our dog.
With four people, three women, two moms and one bathroom in 750 square feet, we knew it would be a challenge, to say the least.
But I love my mom, and his. They get along, they spoil our dog, and they clean the dishes after meals. We thought we’d be in for a concentrated 4-day, 3-night burst of mom time and then back to our regular routine.
Cue the blizzard.
Mother Nature nailed the city with 20 inches of snow Sunday, postponing my mom’s flight until the day before New Year’s Eve and his mom’s flight to New Year’s Day.
A four-day burst became an eight-day marathon.
I had already exhausted any desire to play tour guide, after accompanying the two moms on a Sunday afternoon tour of shop windows on Fifth Avenue that ended in near-frostbite and an overpriced round of coffee at a wine bar near Rockefeller Center. (Note: never, under any circumstances, allow southern relatives who do not own winter boots to convince you they can handle an hour walking around in a blizzard.)
We ate all the Christmas leftovers and watched all the old episodes of "Burn Notice" and movies on demand on our DVR during our first 24 hours trapped inside.
As the prospect of being stuck together for another four days sunk in, I began to panic.
So I turned to the professionals.
"This is an amazing confluence of holiday stress," said Dr. Rosalind Dorlen, a clinical psychologist in Summit, N.J. "In the middle of everything, relatives that we see at holiday time, mixed with a snowstorm — I can’t imagine a better recipe for stress — It’s really bad."
Dorlen, who also does public education for the American Psychological Association, said holidays and family time are hard enough to navigate without any extra help from the sixth-largest snowstorm in almost 150 years.
But we add to our own stress, she said, by romanticizing how the holidays are supposed to be.
"There’s this notion that we have that the holidays are going to be like a Hallmark card," Dorlen said. But people need to "evaluate their expectations" and remember "that everybody is feeling some stress, not just you."
Dorlen shared a few stress-reducing tips:
Don’t drink. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, getting drunk in a room full of tense relatives is like lighting up a powder keg. The alcohol loosens up the inhibitions and all the long-simmering family drama could explode.
Cut yourself some slack. You’re probably stressing yourself out more than your guests are, so accept the situation and make the best of it. It helps to have a sense of humor about the situation, even if it’s gallows humor.
Get out of the house. Even in a snowstorm, you can bundle up and at least take a lap around the block. The exercise will help improve your emotional state and get you into a better attitude.
Vent. Talk to your friends, your significant other, your coworkers. Sometimes getting feedback on a difficult situation can help you stay grounded.
Find some alone time. Take a walk, close the bedroom door and do some yoga, take some deep breaths, and in the words of Dorlen, "connect yourself to yourself."
If all else fails, there’s always the counsel of a trained professional – and there are referral services on the American Psychological Association's website, along with additional stress-reducing resources.
Dorlen left me with some parting advice, which is as relevant for the rest of 2011 as they are for this month: Sometimes, it’s better to look on the bright side.
In our case, one silver lining of the storm was the litany of generous friends and relatives who offered us the keys to their apartments and extra beds for our moms to stay on once they heard about our situation. My mom ended up staying with a good friend for the last few days of her trip, while his mom relocated to a cousin's house.
"Have a goal of making peace with your family and friends," Dorlen said. "It's better to stay positive."