‘Family jet lag’ means we pay the price of long-haul festivities

Some of us will have experienced the weird sensation of travelling long-haul and crossing several time zones.

For instance, flying to New York means spanning five time zones so when you arrive in America the time is five hours behind the UK.

Known as jet lag, our body clocks get pushed out of sync and we can suffer symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, an inability to concentrate and a general feeling of malaise.

Now US researchers have come up with a new phenomenon: family jet lag.

The kind of malaise you feel after spending time in big family gatherings, doing shopping, cooking and being confined together in a limited space while all the time trying to wear a smile.

Exactly as many of us did over Christmas and New Year.

Dr Adam Fried, a clinical psychologist from Scottsdale, Arizona, says trying to create a ‘perfect’ family experience over Christmas takes its toll both mentally and physically.

And due to the demands of the festive season we can be affected whether our striving was done consciously or not.

So how can you not just survive big family occasions but enjoy them?

Dr Fried believes that strategies such as daily mindfulness and meditation sessions can provide relief for some, while for others exercise or even ­medication can help.

Some of my own strategies include thorough planning well before the family gathering, ­and establishing rules with the kids and my husband about how we would handle difficult situations.

An important tactic was banning certain subjects for the whole period.

That’s easier said than done. “Often it’s easiest just to fall into the same patterns of interacting with family, even if these are emotionally destructive,” Dr Fried said.

“Indeed, the hardest part can be establishing – and sticking to – new responses and behaviours.”

Dr Dion Metzger, a sleeping expert based in Atlanta, says travelling during holidays is another important trigger for family jet lag.

“During holiday travel, it is so easy to start sacrificing hours of sleep to get that last-minute packing in, rise before the sun for that 6am flight or even just to have a late night catching up with loved ones,” she says.

Disrupted sleep patterns make for irritability and impatience, and erode our wellbeing.

How do you cope? Ask for help. ­Establish a firm departure date and learn to say no. “Only say yes to things that fit into your schedule with the rest you need,” Dr Metzger says.

“You can’t do everything.”

Wise words.