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Stanford University School of Medicine

Tips to survive — and thrive during holiday family events

Every year, in the interim between the last bites of my Thanksgiving meal and my first cup of coffee on Black Friday, a gnawing uneasiness begins in the pit of my stomach. The holiday season has now, undeniably, begun and it's time to start the mental Jenga that is arranging my vacation travel so I can visit multiple families in different states.

I know a perfect holiday with each family isn’t possible. I also understand that I'll burn myself out if I try to please everyone. Yet, every year, I struggle to put this knowledge into practice.

So, to bolster my resolve to have a healthier holiday, I did some research on the topic and found this post by BeWell @Stanford. In the Q&A, marriage and family therapist Mary Foston-English, explains that the holidays are hard for many people because they're often coupled with uncomfortable situations, reminders of a lost loved one or unpleasant memories. She also describes how unrealistic expectations can can contribute to holiday stress. We may think:

  • “Holidays are supposed to be joyous and happy.”
  • “Holidays are times when families come together.”
  • “If you don’t have family, then there’s no reason to celebrate.”
  • “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”
  • “The bigger the gift and/or the more we spend, the better.”
  • “Everything has to be perfect.”

And we couldn’t be more wrong.

Foston-English offers several sanity-saving tips on how to communicate better with our families, how to deal with 'that' relative and how to avoid overextending ourselves emotionally, financially and emotionally. Here are a few of Foston-English’s nuggets of wisdom:

  • Have realistic expectations of yourself and others.
  • Become aware of how unhappy/traumatic memories impact the holidays. If you associate the holidays with unhappy times, then the holidays can bring it all back.
  • Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. It’s not a good idea to use the holidays to “confront.”
  • Establish “healthy” boundaries for yourself: It’s OK to say “no.”

I highly recommend reading and sharing the article. Here's to a healthier holiday season for all of us.

Previously: Health psychologist responds to questions on coping with holiday stress and Ask Stanford Med: David Spiegel answers your questions on holiday stress and depression
Photo by eren {sea+prairie}

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