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Coping With the Holidays

Ah, the holidays!  When the family travels over the hill and through the dale to Grandma’s house only to have Dad and Uncle Ronnie get into it again over politics.

Our holidays are seldom as witty, fun-filled and happy as those we see on television and the stress of trying to make them so can lead to feeling overburdened and overwhelmed.  For those who have suffered a loss of a loved one or who find themselves isolated and alone, the holidays can be a grim experience to get through.

But that doesn’t have to be, according to Katherine Hull, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at The University of New Mexico Northeast Heights Clinic.

The secret to planning how to get through the holidays lies in stopping for a moment ahead of time to think realistically about what you would like to see happen. “It is possible to detach a lot of the emotion we have given to that day,” she says.

In addition, while it may seem like an obligation, remember also that celebrating the holidays is a choice.

“Every year isn’t going to be the best holiday ever,” she says.. “But, you can create new rituals and you can scale back expectations.”

Case in point: those family celebrations that can seem overwhelming. Especially  events that end with a family fight over something that happened a decade ago.

“You need to remember that the goal of being right is at odds with being peaceful during the holidays,” Hull says with a laugh.

It can be hard to step back in the heat of the moment’s conversation so, if you know someone will be at a gathering who pushes your buttons, Hull recommends taking a beat to run a quick emotional inventory and plan how you want to respond.

“Stop and ask yourself, is it more important to express what I think and be right or do I want to enjoy this time with these people that I don’t often see?” she says.

If the goal of peaceful co-existence wins out, then commit to having conversations more about things you do have in common. Focus on shared memories, traditions and enjoying time with food and sports, she says.

If that seems a stretch, then prepare an “escape plan” before leaving home. Additionally, remember that just because a family holiday celebration lasts all day does not mean you have to participate from the beginning to the somewhat bitter end, Hull says.

“Instead of accepting a relative’s offer to take you to the family party, you might decide ahead of time you will drive your own vehicle so you and your partner can go, stay two hours and then leave,” she adds. Don’t forget either that some of the stress of the season may be at least partially physically based.  While Seasonal Affective Disorder affects a relatively small portion of the population, most people do see a change in energy levels with the shorter, colder days of winter. Getting out into the sun for some exercise can help greatly.

For those who have suffered the loss of a loved one or are too far away to connect with family, just remember that any holiday, in the end, is only one day on the calendar. 

“Loneliness is a society-wide issue today, and many people feel it especially at this time of the year,” Hull says.

Feel free to opt out. We can start new traditions, treat ourselves to binge watching a series on television or just decide to order in Chinese and ignore the whole thing. 

“We all have a biological family – but we can choose a second, ‘logical family’ from friends we have made,” she says. “You can create a support system that doesn’t rely on old family dynamics and value the time you spend with them.”.

 Which just could lead to a holiday that will be remembered well for years.

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