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Pumpkin Pies, twinkle lights, and family fights….

“Did you talk to your mom about the holidays?”

“I did, she said John wants to have dinner at his house, and I think we should just go, I don’t want to have to deal with him.”

“Seriously? I wanted to do dinner here. I’ve been talking about it for months” “once again we have to spend the holidays the way your brother wants…”

If ever there was a test designed to measure personal growth and the efficacy of therapy it would come with turkey, gravy, and a side of holiday shopping. The holidays have the propensity to be the most magical time of the year, especially if you are under the age of ten. However, once the magic of Santa has been demystified other realities seem to be illuminated with intense magnification.

What is lost in a fantasy is gained back in the realization that stress is real, especially when family is involved.

Yet, we handle stress daily with work and marriage and parenting, and we navigate our way through it all along with traffic, inflation, and most recently a pandemic. Why then does negotiating holiday meals and time together become the crux of the year? It often seems that the pressure of commercialism and family expectations sends us regressing to our most reactive and youngest selves. Our ability to tolerate the nuances of our family members seems to fly out the window, along with self-regulating and objectivity. This time of year is still magical for adults, but perhaps not in the whimsical ways of our childhood. The “adult” magic of the holidays stirs up old habits, unhelpful patterns of thinking, and of course the never-ending pursuit of validation and acceptance.

All this is not to say that you have permission to go in full “Grinch” mode and completely give up on family and tradition. No, I’m writing to remind you of that work you’ve been doing on the relationship with yourself and others. The work that includes monitoring your values and your emotions, despite the circumstances. The work that puts you in charge of your own narrative and provides you freedom to experience others while maintaining a sense of self. This has been a lot of work and deserves the same attention as the holiday to do list.

Some thoughts on keeping your stress in check:

Pre-game! – no, not the way you did in college.

By pre-game I’m referring to making plans ahead of time. Sit down with your calendar and spouse/partner/pet and commit to whom you’d like to spend time with during the holidays. This is an opportunity to make use of your boundaries by practicing the art of saying “thank you for the invitation however, I (we) won’t be able to attend this year”.

Exercise – Physically of course! 20 Minutes of daily exercise will help clear your mind allows you to refocus on those pesky boundaries and values we discuss every week in therapy.

But wait, I’m also talking about exercising that amazing part of your brain called the pre-frontal cortex. You know that sexy part of you that allows you to think with reason and logic. How? Plan and organize your time, budget, and decide to whom and where your energy is going and (importantly) where it’s not going.

Crowds aren’t your thing? Plan to shop online. Money is on a budget? Homemade gifts are thoughtful and appreciated. Time stretched too thin? Perhaps it’s time to drop the plastic balls and refer back to your values, what is most important to you and your family?

You can’t be all things, or in all places. I implore you to remember that the best parts of our childhood are the memories of laughter, warmth, and togetherness.

Best regards, and warmest wishes.


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