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
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
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
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
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.