Overcoming Feelings of Dread During the Holidays You can’t wait to see Cousin Joey… or can you? Dr. Scott gives you some tips to make this year something you can deal with. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Don't let the social climate get as icy as it is outside.
Why do I feel dread in getting together with my family during the holiday season.
Holidays tend to conjure up images of elaborate place settings, snow dusted rooftops and togetherness. Yet, many people do not feel warmed by the anticipation of the winter holidays. In fact, they feel downright panic stricken.
One of the reasons that people feel so stressed about getting together during the holidays is because expectations are so incredibly high. Truth be told, when everyone goes home for the holidays, rarely is it a perfect, made-for-TV event.
People have hopes that holiday get-togethers will generate a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” closeness that may be missing at other parts of the year. The reality is that in many families chronic clashes plague parents, children, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles for generations. And that’s even before we consider the in-laws!
There’s nothing wrong with conflict; it’s one of the ways in which we learn to master our emotions and, over time, form better ways of relating to others. But stress levels rise as we plan for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays because of the heartfelt desire to have a conflict free experience. Ironically, the strong desire to have things go just right often results in things even going worse. That’s because the expectation of potential conflict results in body language and behavior that just tends to get everyone else even more upset.
Taking the right approach to family reunions won’t guarantee a warm and fuzzy night of holiday cheer, but it could lead to a more comfortable evening for everyone. Here’s how to start:
* Keep expectations real. Don’t expect a Hollywood moment when you walk in the door. If every holiday your parents tell you that your hair looks awful, you can be sure that it’ll happen again. If you expect something different, then you set yourself up for disappointment.
* Take care of business before the clan meets. If you are frustrated with your brother for forgetting your birthday, try to work it out with him beforehand so you don’t go into the holiday holding a grudge.
* Kill ‘em with kindness. One of the most powerful ways that you can minimize conflict is to genuinely project a sense of warmth and openness. When your uncle confronts you with your shortcomings. Thank him or her for their observation and concern, and move on.
* See the good in everyone. That’s what the holiday spirit is all about, after all. Each of the members of your family is trying to do good the way he or she knows how. If you keep that in mind, you’ll be more sympathetic to the stupid things your family members say and do.
Getting together for the holidays with your family can be stressful. But if you maintain realistic expectations and have a forgiving attitude, you won’t dread it as much. In fact, it may be something that you look forward to next year.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com