Q: What are some tools or tactics I can use to avoid the stress and family drama around holiday time?
A: Japan is incredible this time of year. Go there.
For the rest of us, I have prepared some practical tips. Using one or two will yield better outcomes than none at all. If you use all five, you will achieve Jewish Zen master status and will be spoken of for generations to follow.
- Chaos comes where chaos is welcome. If you are anticipating problems, visualizing the triggers, the arguments, and the sweet, sweet comebacks, you are more likely to manifest this reality.
Those part-time cosmic life gurus are on to something: Some applications of visualization are backed by science. So instead of preparing for war, prepare for peace. Set your intentions to calm and cooperation, and discuss them with your core allies in the days and weeks leading up to the events. Aside from visualizing the success, you will be creating a culture.
Everyone wants a relaxing, pleasant experience over the holidays, but things go awry as we operate from the consistent fear that someone (cough, Aunt Janet) will disturb the balance. So, instead of being on edge about what could go wrong, realize that everyone wants what you want and make it happen.
- Limit the booze. People often mention looking forward to having “a drink” during stressful times to help chill out. Neurologically, alcohol does indeed induce relaxation, but it also relaxes the parts of the brain responsible for governing your better judgment, ethical decision-making and expressive language. Mix in a few decades of resentments with a dash of disappointment, and, gosh, what could possibly go wrong?
Also, for people living with anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition, alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms, especially when they are under stress. Cheers.
- Eat well, get rest and exercise moderately. I don’t know what it is about the holidays, but people are so keen to let go and eat themselves into misery.
I understand the temptation of salt, sugar, fat and white flour, for I too am a mammal, but if you have had negative or stressful family holiday experiences, do something entirely different this year and commit to your own wellness. Take a break. Exercise is proven to reduce stress and enhance mental well-being, even in the short term.
Food choice is an essential piece too, but as it pertains to holiday stress, let’s avoid spikes and crashes in our blood sugar.
- 4. Lashon hara. Simply, hold off on trash talk, negative gossip and “hey, don’t tell (insert family member here) I told you, but …” until the new year.
If you can postpone these behaviors for many more new years, good news: Studies show you’re more likely to have better overall life outcomes, including improved mental health, reduced risk of some cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and more satisfying social and family relationships.
- Make a gratitude list. Start practicing now. Every night before bed, list three events that went well that day, including why they went well (if you like this, research “The Three Blessings”). On the morning before a would-have-been-stressful family gathering, make a list called “25 Things I Am Grateful For About the Day Ahead.” Make sure the items are focused on that particular day and the people involved.
Hint: Be as specific and detailed as possible. Tap into your senses, such as “the sound of latkes frying” or “the smell of Aunt Janet’s Aqua-Net hairspray as she hugs me goodbye.”
Happy holidays, y’all.
Daniel Epstein, L.P.C., L.M.H.C., is a licensed psychotherapist and the program director at The Berman Center. For program or private practice inquires, email email@example.com, or call 954-228-5101. For individuals and families struggling with addiction and mental health illness, The Berman Center’s Intensive Outpatient Program (www.bermancenteratl.com) is the treatment, recovery and personal advancement center that helps people move from existing to living through an individualized, spiritually holistic approach, best-in-class clinical excellence, and exceptional post-treatment community integration programs. Finding hope, igniting purpose. For more tips on how to approach the above types of situations or answers to your questions related to mental illness and addiction, call The Berman Center at 770-336-7444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.