How To Avoid Family Drama This Thanksgiving? Get Outside

convocation on family drama avoidance

Holidays are the perfect time to get together with family and friends for good food and a good time. But they can also be stressful for some, especially if there is some strain among family members. Here is one tradition to add to your holiday this week to make the day smoother: Get outdoors.

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Researchers with University of Illinois suggests that a family that gets outside together has a stronger bond and better relationships. Even just a 20 minute walk may help a family get along better together.

Dina Izenstark and Aaron Ebata based their research on the attention restoration theory which describes how interaction with natural environments can reduce mental fatigue and restore attentional functioning. They make the case that when our attention is restored, we are less irritable, have more self-control and pick up on social cues more easily. These factors help us get along better with others.

This particular study focused on moms and daughters (aged 10-12 years) who were asked to either take a 20-minute walk together in a mall or out in nature. The outdoor walk clearly increased positive interactions between the family members more so than the walk indoors. The researchers found that there was a greater sense of unity, closeness, and a better ability to get along.

"We know that both moms and daughters experience mental or attentional fatigue. It's common especially after a full day of concentrating at work or at school," Izenstark says. "If you think about our everyday environments, not only are you at work, but maybe your cell phone is constantly buzzing, and you're getting emails. With all the stimuli in our everyday environments, our attention is taxed more than we realize."

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Izenstark adds that in order to relieve some of that mental fatigue, people need to restore their directed attention. "In nature, you can relax and restore your attention which is needed to help you concentrate better. It helps your working memory."

The finding was especially true for the mothers. In fact, the daughters showed benefits with both walks – likely because of the individualized attention they were receiving from mom.

"It was unique that for the daughters walking with moms improved their attention. But for the moms, they benefitted from being in a nature setting. It was interesting to find that difference between the family members. But when we looked at their subjective reports of what they felt about the two settings, there was no question, moms and daughters both said the nature setting was more fun, relaxing, and interesting."

This holiday season, take the opportunity to spend quality time with family outdoors. Go for a walk, play a game of backyard football, or just sit around an open fire pit and reminisce. When the craziness of the season gets you feeling rushed, carve time out of the daily grind to just be with the ones you love.

Journal Reference:
Dina Izenstark, Aaron T. Ebata. The Effects of the Natural Environment on Attention and Family Cohesion: An Experimental Study. Children, Youth and Environments, 2017; 27 (2): 93 DOI: 10.7721/chilyoutenvi.27.2.0093

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