Reduce Stress: Avoid Family Conflicts During the Holiday Season

Avoid Family Conflicts During the Holiday SeasonThere’s something about family get-togethers that can turn even the most confident senior executives into quiet underachievers, and seemingly “rational” individuals into petty bickerers. If you’re stressing out about meeting with family over the holidays, sure that your excited anticipation will turn into disappointed reality, there are some ways you can prevent such disappointment from happening.

The key is to discover the negative behavior patterns you’re repeating, and learn to create “new, productive familiars,” “Holiday hell can be avoided if we just stop repeating the familiar,”

The senior executive who oversees a staff of 100 in a Fortune 500 company and assumes an underachiever role in the presence of her family may not have received parental recognition of her leadership ability as a child, being overshadowed by the athletic prowess of her siblings. As a result, she now unconsciously assumes that same inferior role when in the company of her family, Shechtman explained.

Or, a normally rational person, known by friends and co-workers for his calm demeanor, even temperament and ability to put things in their proper perspective may find himself bickering over petty issues at the dinner table, determined to win his point, because he received minimal positive reinforcement from his parents as a youth and is still trying to win their approval.

“We all have a tendency to repeat the familiar,” Shechtman said. “We must learn how to recognize the familiar — attitudes from our childhoods that cause us to act in predictable and often destructive ways, and create new familiars that foster personal growth and positive relationships.”

“Families who get together just one or two days a year around the holidays and try to make up forthe other 364 days are likely to experience relationship stress,” “The drama of a lifetime of conflicts is often played out over the course of a three-hour meal and a holiday visit.”

Garrison suggests calling a truce in advance of holiday get-togethers. To foster a happier holiday season, he offered the following tips:

Become a good time manager; to avoid stress, allow extra time for all activities.

Schedule daily time alone.

Practice moderation in eating and drinking.

Suppress the need to instruct or criticize; listen more, talk less.

Have realistic expectations and learn to “go with the flow.”

Make a budget and stick to it.

Shop early at off-peak times; consider shopping by mail.

Many of us embark upon the the eternal quest to make sure all of our siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws get along during the holidays. While hope for a peaceful family get-together always springs eternal, it sadly isn’t always a realistic goal. Whether or not a circle of friends or an extended family can actually get along during the holidays should not be seen as a measuring stick for your own good intentions. There are a number of things you can do to help your loved ones get along during the holidays, but the remainder of the year is up to them.

One important point is to keep your holiday expectations realistic and flexible. While it would be nice to have the entire extended family under one roof for the holidays, you must accept the fact that it may not happen. If you can accept a less idealized plan for the upcoming holidays, then your positivity may rub off on the family members in attendance. When people can pick up on each other’s positive attitudes, they often get along during the holidays much better. It may be better to have a smaller group comprised of people who interact well together than a larger group of people who don’t.

If your goal is to see contentious relatives get along during the holidays, then you may have to play the role of negotiator or mediator. You may have to speak with each relative separately and try to get at the root cause of their conflict. Even an armed truce or an agreement to disagree may be enough to help sparring relatives get along during the holidays. If you can manage to get the two parties to speak face-to-face before the holiday reunion, it may clear the air even more. No one enjoys feeling ambushed during a holiday get-together.

You must understand that the holiday season can be a mixed bag of emotions for everyone. Some family members or friends may prefer to remain alone during the holidays for their own personal reasons. If you really want people to get along during the holidays, it pays to respect their wishes and not pressure them into uncomfortable social situations. If a family member is not able to attend a family event in person, other family members can still arrange for a family conference call, a live web chat, or a videotape of the event. It may be better to allow individuals to make their own decisions about holiday participation.

If you have a houseful of relatives and you fear the worst, avoid the dreaded downtime. Family members may already be stressed out from their own holiday rituals, so it pays to keep things light and friendly during family get-togethers. Conflicts often arise out of collective boredom, so in order to help everyone get along during the holidays, plan a series of group activities. After an early meal, the entire family could go to a movie or other local attraction. Some may want to volunteer a few hours at a charity food service or go on a shopping trip. At night, everyone could look at neighborhood Christmas lights and displays. The trick is to keep moving and keep talking.

Even if you are not planning an extended family event, it is still important that your immediate family get along during the holidays. Keep in mind that children may be working off sleep debts, so allow them time to rest and relax. Hold off on family trips or all-day entertainment until everyone in the family has had time to adjust to a vacation mindset. You may think of it as a trip to Grandma’s house, but your spouse or children may see it as 12 hours trapped in a car unless they get enough rest beforehand.

Above all else, if you want to have your friends, co-workers and family get along during the holidays, be sure to lead by example. Once people see you avoid petty conflicts at work or show honest affection towards your family, they are more likely to follow your lead.

The holidays are right around the corner, is your teen going to act like the perfect Christmas Angel? Of course not!

All special occasions, ie. holidays, family get togethers, and even family vacations, are the most opportune times for you teen to be at his worst. The reason for this has to do with your teens basic need to define himself. He is going to use these opportunities to define the family structure around him, therefore defining where he ‘fits’. He will do this by stirring up as much conflict as possible.

As the whirlwinds that your teen has started die down, he will pick up on his ‘piece’ in the ‘family puzzle’. It will greatly effect his Self-Esteem. So you want to do your best to resolve the conflicts as they rise, rather than have them fester. Here are a few good tips on how to resolve conflict:

  • Use your active listening skills.
  • Action plans on curfews and family guidelines help prevent many conflicts.
  • Know the differences between natural and logical consequences and use them.
  • Avoid power struggles by taking a time out when you feel the need.
  • Expect non-compliance. Testing the limits is normal behavior for a teenager. When you get what you are expecting it causes less frustration

Ten years ago, on the day before Christmas, Ms. J’s brotherwas killed in a car crash. Do we take it as a given that everyChristmas Ms. J needs to enter a period of mourning? November,December, and January—one-fourth of the year—areall months usually associated with “the holidays.” Statistically,one would expect one-fourth of life’s tragedies to occur duringthat time, forever linking the season with a potential for anniversaryreactions.

Mr. G grew up in a family in which the father’s everyday alcoholicexcesses, such as family fights and alcoholic outbursts, becameaccentuated during the holidays. These events appear to accountfor a seasonal increase in the incidence of Mr. G’s panic attacksduring the holidays. Need this be repeated in his emotionalexperience year after year?

Ms. A always goes home for the holidays. She is 40 years old,is a successful lawyer, and has been married for ten years.She and her husband have chosen not to have children. Each Christmasthey spend the holidays with their respective parents. Ms. Aflies across the country to her hometown, excited about theprospect and bringing many gifts for her parents and her marriedsister’s family. Each year she returns in a state of despair.Her parents, as usual, have been absorbed and delighted by theantics of their grandchildren and uninterested in Ms. A’s careersuccesses. Her sister, jealous of Ms. A’s independence and success,has made obliquely negative comments about the gifts she chosefor the children.

A video replay of her childhood would reveal the same dynamicsin progress. Ms. A’s parents were more interested in her sister,and her sister was quietly jealous of her achievements. Ms.A, in a supplicant mode, has tried with smiles, compliance,and gifts to make it all different. She has freed herself physicallyfrom the family situation by moving across the country, butduring the holidays she returns. The old fantasies and wishesalso return, and she regressively slides into the role of thehurt, ignored little girl she had left behind. Her parents andher sister may never be different, but in psychotherapy Ms.A can become aware of her wishes, fantasies, and conflicts aboutthe past and be free to choose another path.

Mr. S’s reminiscences were filled with memories of eager anticipation,excitement about possible gifts, and a happy gathering of grandparents,aunts, uncles, and cousins. However, intermixed with these anticipationswas a sense of foreboding. This foreboding was founded on thepast unpredictability of his father, an alcoholic, which hadalways darkened the holiday scene. Sometimes the day would passuneventfully. At other times his father’s violent outburstswould result in loved ones’ making a hurried departure to savethe family embarrassment. The result was unexpressed tensionas family members held their breath, feeling helpless to avoidan unpredictable disaster. What Mr. S came to understand inpsychotherapy was that in his current life he need not continueto be held hostage to these automatic anxieties. As an adulthe need not recreate the scenes of his childhood. If problemsarose, he could choose to confront them. There need be no hidingof problems, no scurrying away to avoid the facts, no passiveresignation or fear of his own suppressed rage. This was themanner in which his parents and family had dealt with the matterwhen he was a child, but Mr. S need not recreate this scenarioin his adult life.


Those who devote their expertise to working with patients whohave lost loved ones recognize that the holiday season is atime of special vulnerability. At a time when the whole familynormally gathers together, the absence, the empty place at thetable, and the rearrangement of the seating pattern call explicitattention to the loss. The first holiday after the death ofa spouse, a parent, or a child is a painful crisis, often accompaniedby a degree of stunned disbelief. This was probably the casefor many who lost family members in the tragic events of September11. The second holiday season often carries a different setof emotional experiences. The stunned disbelief has faded, andreality has set in: the absence at the family table was nottemporary but a permanent condition, requiring new reflectionsand reconfiguration of each person’s sense of “the family.”

A number of dynamics and interlocking forces contribute to thefrequent occurrence of what some call the holiday blues. Theholiday season reawakens the dreams, hopes, and longings ofchildhood as well as memories of early deprivations and affectsthat may have been repressed but that now reappear with renewedintensity. For many, like Ms. A, there is the fantasy that familyconflicts will be put aside and holiday cheer will prevail.Even with the experience of past events to the contrary, thereoften persists the expectation that this year will be different.But unresolved issues of jealousy, sibling rivalry, envy, andan intensification of childhood wishes are often rekindled ratherthan dissolved by exhaustion, alcohol, exaggerated hopes, andthe unfamiliar intensity of contact with family members.


Step One

Try to divide visiting time equally between your family and your spouse’s; if distance makes that impossible, alternate homes from year to year.


Step Two

Ease tensions arising from divorce, amicable or otherwise, by vowing to put the kids first, no matter what.


Step Three

Find out well in advance of the holidays when grandparents and other relatives want to see the kids, and schedule activities accordingly; you’ll avoid last-minute conflicts and hurt feelings.


Step Four

View ethnic or religious traditions of new family members as a way to make your celebrations richer and more meaningful, not as threats to your own beliefs. Create your own blend of favorite rituals.


Step Five

Invite a friend or two to family functions. Behavior almost always improves in the presence of outsiders.


Step Six

Hold gatherings in neutral territory. In a restaurant, a resort or a rented beach house, resentments over wealth, social standing, politics or religion will take a back seat to new surroundings.


Step Seven

Recognize that you can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own, and try to observe the actions of others without judging them.


Step Eight

Cultivate your sense of humor. Almost anything, even other people’s annoying habits, can be amusing if you don’t take them too seriously.


Step Nine

Get plenty of rest during the holiday period. Tiredness and fatigue can be a sure route to bickering and ill temper, in adults as well as kids.


Step Ten

Opt out of the extended-family gathering if the tension is too great to bear. Instead, spend the holidays at home with your immediate family or friends, or take a holiday trip.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you’ll be traveling during the holidays, with or without family, make all arrangements far ahead of time. Prime spots such as ski resorts and warm-weather playgrounds can fill up as much as a year in advance.
  • The same applies to local venues such as restaurants and clubs. The earlier you can book your family gathering space, the better chance you’ll have to get your first choice.

Surviving the Holidays
Dr. Jennifer Bruning Brown’s 10 Tips for a Joyful and Stress-Free Holiday Season

San Francisco — December 2, 2004 – Contrary to popular belief, for many, the holiday season is not a joyous, harmonious time. Instead, it is often a time of family conflicts, stress and loneliness. Many find it difficult keeping up with unrealistic demands and expectations of family, friends and social events at the holidays-in addition to their already demanding jobs and family responsibilities. Others become tense or anxious around family or they’re lonely and feel isolated from loved ones. This can all be a recipe for holiday stress, but with advance thought and preparation, you can make the holiday season a more positive experience for yourself and those around you.

Dr. Jennifer Bruning Brown, research psychologist for Tickle Inc., offers the following 10 tips to help you have a stress-free holiday. Dr. Brown, who received a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University, has extensive clinical training including the assessment and treatment of depression, eating disorders and relationship issues.

1.       Take time for yourself and your relationships. Although spending time with friends and family is essential, it’s also important to set aside time for yourself or with your significant other. Family and social demands during the holidays can make it easy to neglect your personal and relationship needs. Plan some time away from family, on your own or with a partner to do things you enjoy. If you’re single, make sure you don’t spend the entire holiday season with coupled family and friends.

2.       Focus on what’s really important. Decide which aspects of the holidays are most important to you. In other words, if it isn’t something you like, why are you still doing it? Focus on accomplishing what’s most important and let everything else go.

3.       Don’t aim for perfection. Year after year we’re bombarded with images of the idyllic holiday scene – family, friends, and festivities surrounded in a spirit of peace and goodwill for all. There’s no such thing as the perfect party, the perfect meal or the perfect way to spend the holidays. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by placing unrealistic demands on yourself.

4.       Leave your baggage at the door. Often people feel they must resolve the unfinished family business over the holiday they haven’t been able to resolve in the previous year. With the added stress of the holidays, it’s not a good time to try to repair all of these relationships. Declare some kind of truce and focus on having a good time.

5.       Don’t try to diet. But don’t go crazy overeating or drinking. Know the holidays are stressful, the best thing for you is to do everything in moderation. The more you go to either extreme, the more stress you’ll feel. Establish a plan for your eating and drinking, and do your best to stick to it.

6.       Get rid of the guilt. Stop taking responsibility for everyone else’s happiness and decide to leave any feelings of guilt behind. It’s OK to cut back, ask for help, or simply change the way events or family traditions happen and still have a great time during the holidays.

7.       Plan ahead. Think about what usually causes you stress during the holidays and make some changes. Be proactive rather than reactive and take charge over the things you can control.

8.       Have a game plan. If specific family members get on your nerves, come up with a strategy to deal with the situation when it occurs.

  • Try and find some humor in the situation–laughter often helps
  • Try to take a step back and observe yourself and others behaviors from an outside perspective
  • Practice good communication: express your feelings as clearly as possible without blaming

9.       Expect the unexpected. Be aware that unplanned events always occur, both good and bad. So prepare yourself and know that you may need to be flexible.

10.      Be grateful. Think about all the blessings you have in your life. Focusing on what you don’t have only encourages negative thoughts. Write down even the most seemingly insignificant things you’re grateful for and read the list every time you start to feel stressed or down.

Home For The Holidays? Tips For Preserving The Ties That Bind

Filed under Research on Monday, December 13, 2004.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Family conflicts can be exacerbated under the stress of the holiday season, particularly on the heels of a divisive presidential election, but a University of Florida expert offers suggestions for setting aside differences and letting love rule during the holidays.

“Getting through family events requires a lot of flexibility and the ability to remember that, although you didn’t pick your family, they didn’t pick you either,” said UF psychologist Garret Evans. “In many families, even though they might argue over politics or lifestyles, when push comes to shove, they quickly rally to each other.”

According to a 2003 Gallup survey, 76 percent of American adults reported losing sleep between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve Day. A third of those cited family issues as the leading stressor contributing to their sleep loss.

All the stresses of the season, including preparing for travel, financing gifts and decorating the house, can make family get-togethers seem that much harder to deal with, said Evans, an associate professor in the clinical and health psychology department in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, and the family, youth and community sciences department in the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Anxiety associated with balancing travel preparations, gift wrapping, and work and home responsibilities may be the real reason you’re loathing the family weekend, not the visit itself.

Dinner table clashes over politics, religion and other issues can arise when children grow up, experience life on their own and come to their own conclusions about the world, Evans said.

“It’s tough for parents to see their adult kids adopt their own values and beliefs,” he said. “Parents care about how their kids view them and they want to be seen as the end all, be all in their children’s eyes.”

Acknowledging that there are still a lot of raw nerves after the election, Evans recommends the topic be avoided altogether when differing views exist. Turning off the TV during the evening news helps to keep the subject from coming up and striking an agreement between family members to keep certain topics off limits works, too.

“I know families that have declared a public truce to not speak about politics,” Evans said.

Another sticky issue can be religion, especially since the holidays are very religious celebrations for many Americans, Evans said.

“I encourage flexibility. You haven’t been to church in three years and your mother wants you to go? Why not give it a shot? You love her, it will make her happy, the music is pretty good and you will have a chance to break out that old turtleneck sweater Aunt Heloise gave you four years ago,” he said.

To give everyone space during extended visits, Evans suggests scheduling an activity or two outside of the house for just you and your spouse or kids.

Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University sociologist, said he agrees that family stress is heightened at the holidays.

“This may be the only time of year that we are thrown together with our parents and siblings,” Pillemer said. “It’s helpful for everyone to acknowledge that being together again can re-activate family conflicts. Feelings of ambivalence are often common, as family members feel both strong feelings of attachment but also irritation as the time together continues.”

But some advance planning and mental preparation can cut down on conflicts.

“Above all, remind yourself of your common bonds with your family — the memories of bath time with your brother or sister or your child’s first word or baseball game,” Evans said. “We lose touch with these memories over time and distance. People often say that the most fun they have with their family is reminiscing and remembering the silly things. Most family members share more similarities than differences.”

Scrooge wasn’t the only one having nightmares during the holiday. Just how stressed do you get during this time of year? Dateline NBC and Prevention Magazine conducted a scientific poll to find out. Some results: 41 percent of those polled owned up to finding Christmas and Hanukkah stressful, rating it right up there with asking the boss for a raise.Money was the number one cause of stress, with 34 percent saying they worried about money during the holidays. And women were more likely than men to feel stressed-out over the holiday season. But good news: in spite of it all, 62 percent say they still really look forward to the holidays. Check the complete results to see how you compare.

Cut a Little Slack To Keep Family Joy

Make sure everyone knows what is going on; where, when, and with whom.”

“Expect less,” he adds. There are ways to reduce the stress and make the holidays more enjoyable for everyone. “The holidays cannot be perfect. Families are made up of people with many different personalities and many different expectations for the holidays. There are bound to be some conflicts.” Try to make plans flexible. “If everyone plans to go out to dinner, some may prefer a pizza or a hamburger rather than a formal meal at the best restaurant in town. Try to find a way to accommodate those differences,” Sporakowski suggests. “Everyone will be happier and more relaxed when they get back together again.”

“Newly marrieds or new parents often find themselves caught between the expectations of two sets of in-laws with two sets of holiday traditions,” Sporakowski notes. His advice is “Let them know you want to spend time with both, but you cannot eat “the big holiday dinner” twice within an hour-and-a-half. Suggest alternatives that will let everyone enjoy this new family, and, perhaps, start a new and creative holiday tradition.”

Some people may experience the opposite problem for the holidays: they are alone. “Ask someone to share your holiday,” Sporakowski says. “We did that at Thanksgiving, and it was great. There were five retired people in our neighborhood who could not visit their families. We asked them to dinner and ended up sharing a wonderful day.”

Those who may find the holidays the most difficult are those who have had a big personal loss during the year. “If you find yourself unable to cope, seek professional help. Two or three short visits to a counselor, therapist, or a member of the clergy can be very beneficial,” he says.

If the biggest stress of the holidays comes with the credit card bills, there are things that can be done. Sporakowski suggests that you admit that you owe more than you intended.

Plan your budget to get the extra bills paid off, contacting your creditors if you think you might miss a payment. However, do not take so much time to pay back the credit bills that you cannot enjoy the holidays next year. And try to start your planning early for next year.

“Most of all, try to be understanding. I think the phrase is ‘cut everyone a little slack,'” he says. “We all have our own quirks. Ignore some minor irritations from others and hope they will do the same with yours. A smile and a laugh may be the best stress relievers of all, and they are wonderful holiday gifts.”

The Holidays 2001:
Coping in this Year of Change & Uncertainty
Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS, FAAETS

Holidays in 2001
In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, we are a country and a world forever changed. For many the initial intense feelings of fear of other attacks and vulnerability to terrorism have abated in the months since. However, fears were again triggered by concerns about anthrax and calls for increased security to be alert for potential terrorist acts over the holiday season. Because of these events many people are still concerned about air travel security and are afraid to travel by planes. Some are afraid to use other modes of transportation, therefore many may be spending the holidays apart from their loved ones. We are also now a nation at war. For the first time in a long time those in the armed services are overseas supporting Operation Enduring Freedom during the holiday season. Military families will be separated from their loved ones and dealing with the uncertainty that having someone in the armed services during war-time brings.  In addition, many have been impacted by the slowing economy, the rising unemployment and multitude of layoffs, making this season one of financial hardship. Those isolated or estranged from friends and family can find this a season that intensifies the loneliness. Understandably, the 2001 holiday season will be very different; it is a season filled with uncertainty in a year of change.

For those who lost family, friends or colleagues in the September 11 event or those who have lost someone this year, facing the first holiday without that loved one can be very painful. Many people not directly affected by the tragedy e.g. losing a loved one, are dealing with different losses in the aftermath of September 11—loss of innocence, loss of life-style, loss of safety and security with the accompanying feelings of fear and increased vulnerability. The loss of innocence, the belief that people are fundamentally good, is perhaps one of the main reasons that this event has impacted so many people. Many of us are still struggling to make some sense of these changes that have occurred in our once peaceful world. Some may not feel like celebrating the holidays. Others will want to continue with their plans for the season viewing this as a time to connect with others and celebrate the lives of those lost. Different responses to change and to grief are normal and should be respected.

Holiday Blues
The holiday season is often viewed as a time of joy, happiness, peace on earth, good will, celebrating with family and friends, and hope for the future. However many may view this as a difficult time, a time of sadness and loneliness, a time of self evaluation and reflecting on past accomplishments and failures; it can be a time of anxiety about what the future year may bring. During this time of year there is a high potential for psychological, physical and financial stress. The holidays leave millions of people feeling blue, not merry even precipitate the Holiday Blues. Holiday blues can affect men and women of all ages with intense and unsettling feelings ranging from mild sadness to severe clinical depression.

This time of year can be especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one and are facing the first or the umpteenth season without them. The joyful public celebrations and media portrayal of the “perfect” holiday can be painful reminders of what the grieving person is missing. The over commercialization of the Holidays makes one think they are synonymous with “buying” and “spending” and no longer about “caring” and “sharing.” The spirit of the season seems to have been lost in a corporate take-over, or fired in a managerial lay-off.

For those who have experienced a significant loss or change, it is normal to feel subdued, reflective and even “blue.” Merriment is viewed as an emotion for others. Memories of holiday season’s past may surface, or thoughts of the season that will never be; these thoughts can trigger an episode of the blues. Those isolated or estranged from friends and family can find this is a time that reminds them they are alone. Holidays exaggerate feelings of sadness and loneliness; this is normal.

Many different factors can cause the holiday blues and contribute to the tension, stress, loneliness or sadness experienced during the holidays:

  • Increased demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests causing many to feel overwhelmed by holiday tasks and obligations with increased stress and fatigue.
  • Unrealistic or idealistic expectations – trying to have the “perfect holiday.”
  • Financial problems limiting what can be spent on the holidays.
  • Over commercialization – media images and messages of “the perfect party, family, or home,” the need to “find that special gift,” the portrayal of the season as a “time to spend with those you love.”
  • Unable to be with one’s family or loved ones – being separated by circumstance, distance, or death.
  • Recent loss or unresolved grief – filling the holidays with memories of better times or those who have died and are no longer present for the holidays.
  • Family conflicts – during the holidays emotions can run high and result in misunderstandings or conflicts. This is not the time to solve past problems or sort through old grievances and differences. Leave it for later.

People may experience a post-holiday let down with symptoms continuing past the new year. This can result from emotional disappointments during the holiday months combined with setbacks from the preceding months as well as the physical reactions caused by excessive fatigue and stress. Those who do not experience the blues may respond to the stress of the holidays with headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating, not eating enough, difficulty sleeping, or avoiding friends and family.

Ways of Coping – the Basics

  • Maintain a normal routine, or as close as possible. Try and continue doing normal activities.
  • Be sure to get enough sleep or at least rest if sleeping is difficult.
  • Regular exercise, even walking, helps relieve stress and tension and improve moods following a loss.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Watch out for the temptation to eat “junk” foods and high calorie comfort foods.
  • Alcohol should be used in moderation, not to mask the pain.
  • Take things one hour at a time, one day at a time.
  • Do those things, or be with the people that comfort, sustain, nurish and recharge you.
  • Remember other times in the past when you have experienced loss and the strategies used to survive the loss.

Ways of Coping with the Holidays Blues

  • Establish realistic goals and expectations for the holiday season. Don’t expect that everything will be perfect—the food, decorations, parties, family behavior or presents.
  • Keep expectations manageable. Set realistic goals, determine the priorities, decide what can be  comfortable handled, what cannot be done. Delegate responsibility to others—spouse, children. Plan a calendar or “To do list” for shopping, baking, visiting and other events. Let your family and friends know about your limitations.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Eat and drink in moderation. This will help avoid the post-holiday depressing weight gain. Excessive drinking can contribute to feeling blue or depressed.
  • Remember to make time for yourself—for solitude and relaxation.
  • Laughter can be very healing. It is not a sign of disrespect to laugh and enjoy oneself. One should remember the French Proverb “That day is lost on which one has not laughed.”
  • To minimize financial stressors, know your spending limit, set a budget and stick to it.
  • Most often the best gifts come from a sincere desire to make someone happy, not the price tag. Gifts given from the heart can bring much joy. Many cannot be purchased—gifts of time e.g. baby-sitting or volunteering, visiting and reminiscing with loved ones.
  • Enjoy free holiday activities: driving around to look at holiday decorations; window shopping without buying; making a snow person with children; participating in community activities such as tree decorating or lightings; listening to free holiday concerts; enjoying Christmas carolers.
  • Those who have experienced a death, romantic break-up, tragedy or significant loss, need not be obligated to feel festive or try to be all things for all people. Feelings of grief, loss or sadness should be acknowledged, not ignored or repressed.
  • Limiting contact with activities or avoiding the holidays may the best option for some.
  • Spend time with caring, supportive, nurturing people. Limit the amount of time spent with people that are difficult to be around.
  • Call, visit, write or e-mail a long-lost friend, someone who is house-bound, or an elderly relative.
  • Reaching out and reconnecting with old friends or making new ones is one way of dealing with the loneliness experienced during this season. Don’t wait to be invited—invite someone over.
  • Altruism is a way of remembering the spirit of giving and helping those who may have less. Donate money or volunteer time to a homeless shelter, battered women and/or children’s shelter, hospice, nursing home, cancer association or other non-profit, hospital, church, SPCA or Humane Society.
  • Consider doing something in memory of departed loved ones or creating a new remembrance ritual. Some suggestions include: light a special candle; play a favorite song; hang a certain ornament or stocking; listen to music enjoyed by the loved one; donate to a homeless or animal shelter; adopt a needy family; donate the money that would have been spent on a gift to their favorite cause; buy a tree and plant it in memory of a loved one departed.
  • Traditional reunions and past rituals may no longer be possible as children grow move away and families change. Instead of keeping old holiday traditions, find new ways to celebrate the holidays by creating new rituals, traditions or remembrances.
  • The holiday season does not eliminate the reasons for feeling sad, depressed or lonely. In fact the season can heighten feelings of sadness or loneliness; it is not unusual or abnormal for these emotions to surface at this time of year.

Ways of Helping Someone Else Cope with the Holiday Blues:

  • Invite the person to join in holiday activities. Even if the answer is “No,” leave the invitation open in case they decide to come at the last minute.
  • Listen to their grief story as often as they need to tell it. Let them know you are there for them.
  • Sometimes being present and sharing the silence with a reassuring touch on the arm or a hug may be all that they want.
  • Become familiar with resources—physicians, clergy, mental health centers, counseling centers, and hotlines, in case they decide to seek professional help.
  • Be aware that the grieving may not wish to be festive. Take cues from the grieving as to how they want to deal with the holidays and remember or honor (or not) their loss.
  • There is no right or wrong way to deal with the holidays, anniversaries or special occasions. Each person has to decide what will work and then let others know.
  • As caregivers, relatives, friends of those grieving a loss, we can not change the situation, but we can acknowledge it, listen and be supportive.

Special Considerations for Victims and Survivors of Tragedy
For victims and survivors of tragedy holidays, anniversaries and other special occasions are often painful reminders of times past. These days can be filled with heartache and anguish. Memories of holiday’s past can surface often without warning upon hearing a special song, smelling a holiday scent, discovering a treasured ornament or garment, or attending traditional services. The evoked feelings of grief can be just as painful as when first encountered as memories trigger the intense emotions of loss to be experienced anew.  Adding to the grief is the media portrayal in advertising or shows of the “perfect” family celebrating the “perfect” holiday; this can be painful for those whose families have been disrupted by tragedy.  Holidays are a time when survivors of tragedy are understandably often “blue.”

It is important to recognize that people are coping with the events of September 11 in many different way. Some may want to talk to whomever will listen. Others may want to keep the intense feelings and emotions to themselves. Still others have turned to creative ways of expressing their grief, fundraising, or advocacy as their means of coping. These differences in coping will also be expressed as diverse ways of dealing with the holidays. Some may choose not to celebrate as a sign of respect, others will decide to celebrate as a way of remembering. It is important to remember that people cope with loss very differently and to allow them their diverse coping styles. Victims and survivors should decide what feels right to them, what will work for them, and then let friends and family know.

One important thought for victims and survivors of tragedy to remember is that while we cannot control the loss, we can control our response to the loss or in other words:

Circumstances and situations do color life.
But you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be.

John Homer Miller

Coping Suggestions for Victims and Survivors of Tragedy

  • People respond to tragedy in different ways.  Each person’s experience of the loss, like each grief experience, will be unique.
  • Everyone has their own way of coping. Recognize the differences in coping styles and allow people to have their own way of expressing grief unless their methods become self-destructive (See “When to Be Concerned” below). It may be helpful to explain to family and friends how you are choosing to cope.
  • Be aware that it can be difficult for spouses and families experiencing the same loss to understand how different grief responses can occur. Respect the differences.
  • Allow yourself to feel and express sadness, anger or loneliness. The holidays do not eliminate the reasons for feeling these emotions.
  • For most people it is important to find a balance between honoring past traditions associated with the lost loved one while developing new ones reflecting adapting to the change. Some traditions may be too painful to continue. One way of dealing with whether to celebrate past traditions is to begin new traditions in memory of the loved one lost, or start entirely new traditions of their own.
  • It is important to think through any changes in traditions and make conscious decisions about how to handle them. If appropriate make it a family decision. Explain the changes to other family members and friends.
  • Plan a remembrance or find a special way of remembering the loved one lost:
    • Share favorite stories about the person who has died.
    • Serve that person’s favorite food or holiday dish.
    • Make a toast.
    • Hang a special ornament.
    • Hang a stocking for the loved one. Let people include notes of remembrance.
    • Look at photos or videos from past holidays.
    • Plant a tree.
    • Establish a scholarship.
    • Listen to their favorite music.
    • Light a candle.
    • Dedicate a bench or plaque.
    • Adopt a needy family or donate to a homeless or animal shelter for the holidays.
    • Donate the money that would have been spent on a gift to their favorite cause.
    • Publish an ad in the local paper.
    • Write letters or a journal to the loved one to express your feelings.
  • Find a new way of celebrating—celebrate in a new place.
  • Volunteer. Helping others can be very healing. Donate your money or time to help those who may have less.
  • Take time to care for yourself to be alone with your thoughts, in remembrance or in prayer.
  • Many find solace in their religious beliefs and/or spiritual connections. Talk with clergy, spiritual counselors. Attend a service.
  • Try to stay in the present and look to the future rather than dwelling on the past. It is important to remember we can control our response to the loss.
  • Reflect on what is important and still good in life.
  • Remember the Basics (See above)

While it is normal for the holidays and other special occasions to intensify feelings of sadness and loneliness, we are also entering the time following the events of September 11 when the diagnosis of depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could be made. See the next section on “When to Be Concerned” for more information on symptoms of depression.

When to Be Concerned
The Holiday Blues, as the name implies, tend to be short-lived lasting only a few days to a few weeks around the holiday season. The emotions—sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety—usually subside after the holidays once a daily routine is resumed. If the symptoms of hopelessness and depression last for more than two weeks, persist past the holidays or intensify during the season, a simple case of the blues may in reality be a serious case of depression. Symptoms of depression, to watch for include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Sleeping too much or too little, middle-of-the night or early morning waking
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Feeling inappropriate guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness

The person experiencing the “blues” over a period of several weeks should seek professional help—physicians and mental health care providers, clergy, crisis lines, support groups, and mental health centers. Talking with a professional or taking a mental health screening test can help assess whether it’s the “blues” or depression. Those with suicidal thoughts or ideation need to seek immediate care with their physician, crisis line or the nearest hospital emergency department.

Remember to REST
The key to coping with the Holiday Blues is understanding them. Setting realistic expectations for the holidays, knowing what people, events, thoughts or memories can trigger feeling sad, blue or depressed and developing ways of responding to these feelings can all be helpful in coping with the holidays. Most of all it is important to remember to get your R-E-S-T:

Reasonable expectations and goals. Be realistic about can and cannot be done. Get plenty of rest.
Exercise, even walking daily. Eat and drink in moderation. Enjoy free activities.
Simplify to relieve stress. Set a budget for time, social obligations and gifts. Simple gifts can bring happiness – giving service coupons, spending time together, donating to charity, calling a friend.
Take time for yourself for relaxation and remembrance. Give time to others—volunteer. Spend time with caring, supportive people. Keep in mind that Traditions can be changed.

Give tips and advice for solving conflicts in everyday life.


The word conflict comes from the latin word “conflictio” which means “altercation”. Conflicts, disagreements and problems in working together will always occur, both among children and adults.

Conflicts can occur in all levels of society; between individuals, in families, workgroups, in local and central decision making, and in society as a whole. There are different reasons why conflicts occur, for example different goals, values or interests, misunderstanding of situations, unsatisfied needs. To live with unsolved conflicts takes energy and may cause people to feel burdened and divided. Because of this, it is important not to shut one’s eyes to conflict. Instead, one should try to understand the cause of the conflict and its effects, and then try to influence or resolve the conlfict.

To openly accept conflicts requires courage and willpower. There are many reasons why people choose to suppress understanding of a conflict. Here are some ways of thinking that suppress conflicts:

  • There is no possibillity to make things better!
  • I can get in trouble if I try to interfere!
  • It is best not to think about it!
  • Am I really able to do something about it?
  • Perhaps I am the only person who feels that something is wrong!
  • Someone else will do something about it!

Experiences at an early age often play an important role in how you understand situations. Stress caused by conflict may cause you to use different defence mechanisms. By not accepting that there is a conflict, you try to live with a “harmony model” of reality. Critique and suggestions for change are not understood, because the existence of the conflict is not accepted. But if, instead, a conflict is accepted and solved, this will cause better understanding of the thoughts, feelings and needs of each other, and can also result in more openness, creativity and community. Thus, the conflict can cause a relation or a group to improve itself.

Below is described a model for good problem-solving. The model consists of the following six steps:

1.       Identify and define the problem: Describe the problem in ways which are not based on critique or disdain. “I” statements are the most effective way of formulating a problem. This means that you start with your own feelings and ideas. Be an active listener, let other people state their views, try to understand your opponent, and ask check questions to ensure that you have not misunderstood something. Understanding the views of your opponent can cause you to see the problem in a new way. But do not suppress your own feelings. If you do not say what you feel, your opponent may not be motivated to resolve the problem. Ensure that your opponent understands that you have to find a resolution which satisfies both needs – a solution where no one is a loser, a so-called win-win solution.

2.       Propose different solutions: It is not always easy to immediately see the best solution. Ask your opponent to start proposing solutions – you will have time to propose your ideas later on. Employ active listening techniques and respect the ideas of your opponent. Try to list several different solutions, before evaluating and discussing them.

3.       Evaluate the different solutions: Be frank and critical, use active listening.

4.       Making a decision: A common agreement on a solution is necessary. The solution must be specified in such a way that both parties understand it. Do not try to persuade or press your opponent to accept a certain solution. If your opponent is not able to freely select a solution, which he or she can accept, there is a risk that nothing is improved.

5.       Carry out the solution: Immediately after having agreed on a solution, it is usually necessary to discuss how to implement it. Who will do what, and when? If your opponent does not adhere to what you have agreed on, you should confront them with “I” statements. But do not again and again remind your opponent of their tasks – this will cause them to rely on your reminders instead of taking own responsibility for their own behaviour.

6.       Perform a follow-up evaluation: Sometimes, you may find that there are weaknesses in the solution. Both parties should be willing to revise decisions, but this should be done together, not by one of you alone. You have to agree on all changes to the solution – just as you have to agree on the original solution.

Test to perform these steps, but remember that your best method for effective conflict resolution is active listening, open and direct statements, trust and respect for each other’s needs, openness to new facts and patience.

Note: By “active listening” is meant techniques where you check that you have understood what other people mean by rephrasing their views, checking that they agree with your understanding of their views, and asking check questions when needed.

How do I learn to solve my problems? Which problem solving techniques do you recommend? Dscribe a systematic approach to solve problems.


One of the most effective strategies to improve the quality of life for a client is a systematic approach for problem-solving

At the beginning of any psychotherapy, clients usually expect that the therapist will find an answer to all possible problems in life. However, in the course of therapy the clients learn to find their own solutions for their problems. He or she should use prior experiences in life and adapt useful strategies to find appropriate solutions in a structured and systematic way with problemsolving strategies.

It is always a very useful approach to think of successful strategies for problems in the past. Train yourself to adapt useful problem-solving techniques to new situations!

Here is one of many possible models of problem solving.

1.       Problem identification What is my concern?

2.       Goal definition What do I want to achieve or change?

3.       Brainstorming What can I do?

4.       Consequences What might happen?

5.       Decision How should I do it?

6.       Implementation Do it!

7.       Evaluation Did it work?

These seven simple steps can be applied to nearly all kinds of problems in life. Let’s go into detail with a problem of one of my clients:

Daniel is a 52 year old patient with depression and panic attacks. One of his major problems was to leave the house to go for a walk or consult the doctor or therapist.

1. Problem identification

Try to give a precise description of your problems. You should try to focus on behaviours or skill deficits.

2. Goal definition

You should try to set a precise goal of your efforts. This should be a realistic aim of improvement (not “I want to feel better”). Ask yourself: “What do I want to change or achieve right now?”

3. Brainstorming / Generation of alternatives.

Try to think of all possible ways to achieve your goal. Think of successful ways of solving problems or achieving your goals in the past. Use your creativity and do not restrict yourself in any way. Even nonsensical or unusual ways might be worth to consider.

Write all alternatives on a blank sheet of paper!

4. Consider all consequences.

Now it is time to think about the positive or negative consequences of all possible alternatives. Think about any outcome or difficulties of your approaches.

This step can be split into substeps:

a.       What are the advantages? It is better to look at the advantages before looking at the disadvantages, since if you start looking at the disadvantages you may get so dissillusioned that you cannot think of any advantages.

b.       Whare are the risks, what care is needed, what problems can occur?

c.       How do you intuitively feel about the alternatives?

5. Make your choice of one possible alternative!

It is important to make a clear choice and define a time limit for an attempt to reach your goal.

6. Do it (Implementation of your decision)

Do not worry about being successful. Just do it and see what happens…

7. Evaluation

Now it is time to see what happened. If you have been successful: Great!!!! You should think about a reward for your efforts!!!!

The first thing to keep in mind for a Christian single person to achieve a successful holiday season is to Stay involved. Avoid isolation and loneliness. At this time of year, because there is such an overwhelming emphasis on family togetherness, loneliness for Christian singles can get worse. It¹s like singles don¹t exist. They are invisible! Therefore, the Christian single must take some action to not slip into loneliness. A good way to approach this is to ask the Lord who you might be able to help to diminish their loneliness. Saint Paul writes in Galatians 6: 7: “Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap.” In other words: whatever it is that you need, you will receive by giving that thing you need to someone else. For instance, if you need more money, you give money . If you need love, you give love. So if you are lonely, see what you can do about helping someone else out of their loneliness. Consider inviting friends over to your place. Is there someone in your church that needs a visit or a phone call? We receive by giving.

If you are not in a relationship, but would like to be in one, then take advantage of the many holiday church related events to fellowship and connect with other single believers. Meeting that right person has everything to do with being in a variety of satisfying relationships with a number of interesting people. There is usually no such thing as a lonely, desperate person finding that “right One.” Finding the “right one” has everything to do with being actively involved in life, a life guided by The Master. It is wise to participate in as many church activities as you can. Networking with other church members, especially married couples, can be a good way to prospect for a mate. These folks sometimes like to be on the lookout to matchmake singles in the congregation. It is usually a slow time for Church activities between New Years and Valentines Day. So take advantage of these opportunities now.

However, don’t be too hard on your self if you are not into  participating right now. The most important thing is that you   strengthen your faith and stay connected while enjoying the holidays. Attending Services and Close, fun time with a few good friends can be sufficient. Nurturing yourself like this is also good progress toward meeting and finding the special person that God has for you.

If you are in a relationship, be easy and forgiving with each other during this joyous but stressful time of year. Remember you can not change the other person. Only Jesus can do that. ( Matthew 7: 3: And why do you look at the speck in your brother¹s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye.”) You can only decide to let God change you. So you, with The Lords help, work on overcoming and modifying your own character defects. Surprisingly, when you change and grow, it often has the effect of changing the other person as well and the entire relationship gets better.

Don¹t be sucked into family conflicts. Family squabbles can get worse at this time of year because the holidays can put one into situations where you are compelled to interact with family members even though you may not want to. Unlike the rest of the year, it is not easy to gracefully avoid difficult family members. One good way to stay out of trouble is to avoid getting drawn into family triangles. This is where one family member in conflict with another family member takes you aside and tries to get you to side with them against another family member. Or they want you to talk for them with the other family member on their behalf, instead of going straight to that person themselves. As the scripture indicates we should first go directly and confidentially to the person we have a grievance with: Matthew 18: 15 “If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault.” So it is best to politely decline becoming involved and step out of the way so as not to block God¹s light from shinning on this dilemma.

If there is a lot of family dysfunction (in a polite and respectful manner) keep family visits short. No more than three to six hours for in town visits. and a three day limit on out of town visits. If you really feel pressured and uncomfortable, consider staying in a motel during the visit with your own transportation available. Rent a car if necessary. The scripture say “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” This does not mean that you must be under their roof for extended periods of time if you feel unable to do so.

Relax and be as easy on yourself as possible. Keep in mind that during the holidays as at all times, we are not in control of how things go. We have only the illusion of control. God is always in control. We can only do the next right thing. As the eleventh step of AA admonishes: ” We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”

Reduce Stress: Avoid Family Conflicts During the Holiday Season by: Mark Webb LMFT

Mark Webb is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice at South Georgia Psychiatric and Counseling Center in Valdosta. He is the author of How To Be A Great Partner. Mark has been in the field of helping individuals and couples since 1986. He has a vast amount of experience and he can have a very positive impact on your life and your relationship. If you are looking for individual or marriage counseling, please call his office in Valdosta, Georgia and his staff will help you set up an appointment.
South Georgia Psychiatric and Counseling Center
2704 N. Oak St. Blg B-3
Valdosta, Georgia 31602

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