by Dr. Beth Erickson
Holidays can be stressful times. There are plans to make, gifts to buy, holiday greetings to send, visits with in-laws to plan, and special meals to plan and prepare.
In addition, the impact of the highest jobless rate in 26 years with this year’s sputtering economy will make having holiday cheer even more of a challenge for many. Many, like my husband and me, will stay home rather than traveling to see our adult children and grandchildren because of this. This makes following the suggestions I offer below all the more crucial. Please read them and add any new ones to this list that will help you not just survive but thrive this holiday season.
1. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
Those who approach the holidays – and indeed, life – with this perspective are virtually guaranteed to be happy, whatever their circumstances. Norman Vincent Peale called this the power of positive thinking. Approaching life this way allows you to focus on the blessings you have experienced this year, rather than on the scarcity that could impoverish your life economically, mentally and emotionally. A wonderful way to instill this in children is to ask what they are grateful for this past year, even if there are fewer presents under the tree or less Hannuka gelt. Their learning this lesson can be the very best gift of all.
2. Don’t expect a Currier and Ives or Hallmark card holiday.
If you expect the Christmas of your childhood, that is a formula for disappointment. Those were simpler times. Many have memories of the holidays that probably center around large extended families gathering around the table and sharing a holiday feast in the style of a “Hallmark Hall of Fame” production. However, nowadays, with our modern-day mobility, families are spread out, sometimes around the world.
3. Choose a family if yours is far away.
If you find yourself a little short in the family department, adopt a group of people with whom to celebrate. If you do this regularly, they can become your chosen family. Rather than one person bearing the responsibility of preparing the entire meal, have a holiday potluck. (No potato chips and dip allowed.) Even if guests don’t cook ask them to bring dessert that be purchased.
4. If family gatherings in the past have been marked with tension, come prepared with a strategy for handling the situation.
Families with few constructive conflict resolution skills can be expected to have tensions that simmer beneath the surface. And because of the stress of the holidays, too often feelings boil over. Here are some strategies that you might find useful. 1) If a typical, unconstructive argument seems ready to erupt, redirect the conversation. 2) If you are confident in your ability to be a cooler head that can facilitate a return to sanity, attempt to facilitate. 3) If that doesn’t work, leave the area until cooler heads prevail. 4) If someone else in the family is attempting to be constructive and to change the dysfunctional dynamic, support that person without ganging up on other family members. 5) If tensions continue, take a short walk to indicate your displeasure and refusal to participate. This also will break up the conversation.
4. Don’t take on your spouse or partner’s family dysfunction for him/her.
A couple should be a functional united front when confronting unhealthy family interactions. Although in-laws have a better chance at viewing a family’s interaction patterns objectively, they are at risk if they attempt even to comment on them, or more precariously, to change them. The adult child in a family needs to be the one to attempt to change unhealthy dynamics. Otherwise, the spouse or partner is at risk of being scapegoat by the family.
5. Don’t allow a busy-body family member’s intrusiveness to depress you.
Suppose you come from a family where the expectation for adult children is marriage and you are single. Or that you have children, and you have none for whatever reason. Have a conversation-stopping retort when Great Aunt Selma asks you why you aren’t married or don’t have kids. Examples might be, “I appreciate your concern. And I’ll be sure to let you know when I have some news.” Or, “Thanks for caring. I’m in no hurry.” Do not feel compelled to discuss details with someone whose agenda is to gossip. And don’t feel guilty, either. If you must, feel free to say, “I’d rather not discuss this.”
6. If you recently ended a relationship, don’t push yourself to enter into holiday cheer.
New Year’s Eve and holiday parties can be particularly challenging for those who
are newly single. It can be depressing to go without your former partner. But if you sit home and mope, this will be a downer, too. Be proactive. If you feel that putting in an appearance is mandatory, go. But give yourself permission to leave early. Don’t drink too much while you’re there. Leave the party and treat yourself to a bubble bath, massage, workout, or long shower. A quart of Haagen-Dazs is not advised.
7. Use part of New Year’s Eve or Day to evaluate 2009 and to plan your goals for 2010.
If you plan to celebrate this holiday with the usual revelry, before you begin your
Celebration, make some time to do an inventory of the best and the most challenging parts of the past year. This will help you see those events that need a “do-over,” which goals you still need to work on and those that need to be let go. Once you have completed this, list your goals for the New Year. When goals are written down, it is much more likely that they will be met.
These are my strongest recommendations for managing potential holiday trouble spots. And don’t forget my offer of a complimentary phone consultation if you wish. Just call 888-546-1580 to request an appointment.