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25 tips to reduce holiday stress

by Dr. Jeffrey Chernin
Once again, the holidays are about to arrive. A friend of mine told me about a game he plays with his siblings called “Holiday Bingo.” To play, each player predicts events that will happen during their family get-togethers. No two players need to have the same events. For example, for Player One, “B” could be Uncle Mike getting drunk. “I” could be Aunt Claudia making a homophobic remark and so on. For Player Two, “B” could be your parents arguing, “I” could be your little brother going out to get high, and so on. Each player predicts these incidents based on the past. The first one to witness all five events that he or she predicted calls the other players and yells, “BINGO.” Okay, that’s one way to cope, but here are more realistic ways to make the holidays better:

Expect stress to occur
• Be aware that unusual situations will occur this year, so expect the unexpected.

• Prepare yourself. If you’re traveling by air, take a book or two and a pillow with you. While you’re waiting, instead of getting steamed, be thankful for the delays that are caused by the airport personnel who are keeping things safe for the rest of us.

• Plan more than usual. For plane travel, find out if there’s a later flight to the same destination so you can take a later flight if yours is cancelled.

• Reduce the chance for inconveniences to become calamities. Take the phone numbers of the people in your destination city in case your flight is delayed and give them your cell phone number.

• Consider taking public transportation or a cab to the airport.

• Remember that everyone, including mall and airport employees, makes mistakes. Flying off the handle makes things worse for everyone. And if you piss off the wrong person, you may be going to New York but your luggage may end up in Miami.

• Make a vow to be calm during stressful situations.

Don’t make things worse

• Don’t overeat to the point of regret. Make a plan for eating and do your best to stick to it. Enlist your partner or friends to help you.

• Don’t drink or use drugs more than your usual amount. Be a designated driver for one or two parties. 

When you’re going home for the holidays

• Not every homophobic or racist remark deserves an immediate response. Decide ahead of time which battles to fight.

• Become a “family archeologist.” Observe how your family interacts so you can gather “data” on how growing up in your family helped shape your personality. By staying objective, you can stay out of family dramas.

• If things get rough, do something to take a break. Offer to go to the store, take a walk, or go to a gym that offers daily memberships.

• If you find yourself in a family feud, withdraw.

• Limit visits to two or three days.

• If you’re traveling with your spouse, talk about your visit ahead of time. If your family of origin doesn’t want you sleeping in the same bedroom as your spouse, stay at a hotel.

• Remember that your relationship has equal worth to other married couples in your family of origin. If your spouse is not welcome for the holidays, maybe you should skip traveling home for the holidays. Visit home another time of year so you can spend the holidays with your family (i.e., your partner).

Find ways to cope with the unpleasant aspects of the holidays

• If this time of year is hard on you, enlist the support of others. Talk to a friend. If you’re in a 12-step program, go to more meetings and talk to your sponsor. If your sponsor is out of town, talk with someone else in the program.

• Journal your thoughts and feelings.

• If you miss a friend or lover who has died, do something in honor of your loved one, maybe something he or she would have wanted you to do.

• Instead of isolating, make every effort to surround yourself with other people.
Examine the way you view the holidays

• If you think that people must conform to your expectations and standards, it only leads to more stress.

• If you think that the holidays should be less commercialized, forget it.

• Try to view the holidays with a sense of humor. So many things can go wrong. If something does, laugh! It sure beats throwing mashed potatoes across the dinner table.

• Infuse the holidays with more meaning, such as adding rituals.
• Give of yourself.

After reading the above ways to improve the holiday season, there’s still one more. If you feel that there’s nothing you can do, turn your attention to the coming year. 2006 is around the corner, and you will have the opportunity to forget about the holidays for another year. But since the holiday season lasts from mid-November to the end of December, you might want to think about ways to make it better.

— Jeffrey Chernin, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author in Los Angeles. To learn more, go to www.JeffreyChernin.com.

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