Surviving added stress of family time during holidays
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, November 19, 2012
11/19/12 at 4:11 AM
Although the holidays should be a time of joy and celebration, they can also be a cause for stress.
And oftentimes, a big factor in this stress is the time spent with family.
Amanda Spriggs, a therapist at Parkside Psychiatric Hospital & Clinic, said family time can be stressful for several reasons.
Spending time with a lot of family can bring back unhappy memories of childhood, she said. A change in the family, such as a death or a divorce, can also be stressful because it alters holiday traditions.
"I think talking about those things is really important," Spriggs said. Work through your emotions before a family gathering, then be open with your family about it.
For example, if you acknowledge how much you miss a grandmother who recently died, the gathering can turn into a celebration of her life, rather than a time when everyone tries to suppress their sadness, Spriggs said.
Another cause for stress around the holidays is that people try to make time for everyone and over-commit themselves.
Joseph Schwartz, a licensed clinical psychologist at Riverside Counseling, warned against over-committing yourself.
"Please, try not to be all things to all people," he said.
Take care of yourself
To limit the likelihood of a stressful holiday season, Schwartz said, it is important to take care of yourself. He refers to it as self-preservation, not selfishness.
"You can do the most good for the most people if you preserve yourself," he said.
To do so, and to keep yourself from feeling "not quite right," Schwartz said, make sure you are not hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sick.
Taking care of these needs will help reduce your stress level, he said.
Spriggs said to help yourself deal with the stress, make sure you have a support system.
"Call someone that's close to you and is supportive," she said.
Spriggs also said if you have positive routines that make you feel good - such as going to the gym - keep them up through the holidays.
And to help you get through a time that you know will be stressful, make de-stressing plans for yourself. Tell yourself that after the family gathering is over, you will watch a movie you've been wanting to see or treat yourself to a spa day.
For those who are hosting family for the holidays, planning ahead helps reduce stress, Spriggs said.
"Plan things to do, plan what you're going to eat, so that things aren't last minute," she said.
And if your family is staying for a few days, make sure your plans include getting out of the house, especially if family members don't get along, Spriggs said. That allows everyone to get some space and see new faces.
But also be sure that your expectations are realistic and your plans are appropriate for everyone who will be at your home.
"If you don't have kids and you have kids coming over, ask the parents, 'What are things that they enjoy doing?' " Spriggs said.
If you feel the stress reaching a tipping point, take a break.
"There's nothing wrong in retreating," Schwartz said.
Retreating could be as simple as humming a song to yourself or stepping in the hall to text or call a friend. If you've got your car while visiting family, consider taking it out for a spin around the block.
Just engage in mindful behavior to distract yourself from the stress, Schwartz said.
Sometimes, personalities within families just don't click.
"If you don't want to play tug of war, don't pick up the rope," Schwartz said. "There's nothing wrong with just keeping quiet or walking away."
Spriggs said that to avoid conflict as much as possible, talk about things everyone enjoys or has in common.
"Don't go into those hot-button topics, those things you know will cause an argument or a fight," she said.
And if a conflict does arise, just agree to disagree, she said.
Original Print Headline: Surviving stress of family time
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