Magazine article Work & Family Life

Holiday Stress-Busters That Work

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Holiday Stress-Busters That Work

Article excerpt

Married or single, parents, stepparents, aunts, uncles or grandparents-we all have a vision of what we would like the holiday season to be. Our visions are not the same, because we grew up at different times, in different families and in different places-but, chances are, we share some of the same expectations.

Many of us try to recreate the holidays we enjoyed as children or an idealized version of those memories. As Frank Pittman, M.D., a family therapist and author from Atlanta, observes, we "package our expectations" of family love during the holiday season. "We want the occasions to be perfect and we want all our dreams-of connection, harmony, joy and bliss-to come true."

Family ties tend to be tightest at this time of year, Dr. Pittman says, and so are family tensions. Holidays give us a chance to reconnect with our past; they also provide fertile ground for conflict. Deciding whom to invite to your house or whose family to visit or how much travel you can (or care to) manage are potential sore spots. When singles and couples visit their parents, they expect happy reunions but sometimes get a replay of sibling rivalry or resurfaced grudges instead.

Here are some suggestions to help you anticipate some of these issues and add enjoyment to your holidays.

For family get-togethers

* Togetherness has its pitfalls. If someone gets angry or something awkward happens, don't let that ruin your holiday or your trip. Take it in stride. It happens in every family.

* See the holidays as a good time to catch up and have positive interactions with relatives. However, it's not the best time to repair old wounds or bring up difficult topics like telling your cousin you think her husband drinks too much.

* Be forewarned, as Psychology Today editor Hara Estroff Marano points out, "it is the nature of family rituals to try to fit you back into old family roles." But, she adds, "you don't have to be the fixer-upper or the kid sister if you don't want to be."

* Plan for the hours between lunch and dinner. Offer to stay with the kids while others go to a movie. Organize a walk or have some board games ready. But, Marano cautions, "don't try to overcontrol everyone's interactions in order to pur a lid on conflict and clashes."

* Don't try to do everything yourself. Decide ahead of time with your friends, spouse or kids who will do or bring what. You'll find that everyone will enjoy the holiday more.

* Be cool. Every small criticism is not worth an argument. Take parental "advice" with a grain of salt. A sense of balance and humor will go a long way to relieve tensions that might spoil your visit. …

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