YES! We’re all stressed out. But I’m determined to enjoy the holidays with my daughter who is potentially home for the very last stretch before she takes off for her real life after college graduation this spring. We turned to a pro for some tips on how to stay sane through the holidaze. My friend Abby Lipschutz, Psy.D, is a clinical pyschologist and director of Shoreline Psychological, where she and her team specialize in psychotherapy and transitions for children, adolescents, couples and families. Here’s what she had to say:
Holiday time at any age can result in a multitude of emotions including excitement, anxiety, sadness, and happiness. Holidays are typically associated with many memories, some loss, tradition, transition and chaos. The pressure can be incredibly anxiety-provoking for everyone in the family. Schedules, routines and rules can be thrown off at holiday time, which can lead to more behavioral challenges and stress for everyone. The following are some tips that might be helpful to survive the holiday season and maintain family sanity:
For the Parent:
- Get Organized: Try to make lists, schedule time for shopping, preparing when it does not interfere with your family’s schedule.
- Manage Your Time: Prioritize your objectives and set realistic goals. Try not to take on more than you can handle. It is OK to say NO! Make it a point to not over-do, over-shop, over-cook, over-comply or over-worry.
- Plan Ahead: Prepare your family for the activities and people that will be involved during the holiday time. Discuss any schedule changes with children and answer any questions that they might have.
- Ask for Help: Ask your family to share in the responsibilities. Communicate to them what you need and then let them take care of assigned tasks their way.
- Maintain Self-Care:
- Exercise: Maintain a similar level of physical activity that is part of your daily schedule. Exercise is important for all of us year round, but especially important during this busy time. One way to bring the family into the holiday spirit is getting outdoors: going to a tree farm, going for a hike. You may even hit the malls as a family during an off peak time.
- Good Nutrition: Eat well in between baking and all of those holiday parties. As busy as you get, make it a priority to sit down at the dinner table together as much as possible and at least one time a week. This is a good time to share thoughts and feelings about the holiday stressors.
- Relax: Take time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself especially during this hectic time of year. Take 15 minutes each day for quiet time, meditation, or deep breathing.
For the Family:
- Create Your Own Traditions: Deciding when to celebrate, how and with whom can be a source of conflict for families. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. Have your kids participate in this with an open family discussion.
- Maintain Self-Care: Like you, your kids need to maintain good nutrition, rest, and exercise to minimize the stress of what’s typically a chaotic time.
- Plan Ahead: Discuss any plans in advance with your children. And when possible, include them in the planning process. Kids do better when they know what is expected.
- Enjoy Each Other: Appreciate the time spent with your family. Recognize your unique strengths and the wonderful qualities of those around you. Keep a positive attitude about the holiday season. Get outside together or work on family project while everyone is home.
- Give Back: Find a charity or a charitable activity that you can do as a family, whether it’s delivering meals or visiting a nursing home. Use the holidays as a teaching opportunity about being grateful and thankful.
- Set Limits: You do not have to accept every invitation. It’s okay to say “no” for your family and for your child. It’s okay to let go of the “musts” and “should” and do something different.
- The Separated Family: Follow the visitation schedule and communicate with your child where they will be on each day of the holiday. Express your love but keep personal resentment and bitterness aside. Avoid a competition for your children’s affections. You might write a note if you are not with your child on the holiday, which they can read on that day or before.
- Blended Families: Try to be sensitive to the feelings of stepchildren or visiting children. Sometimes these children can feel like they do not belong and may be missing the absent parent.
- Financial Issues: The strain and stress of holiday gift giving is particularly strong in families where a parent has lost a job or is struggling financially. Be realistic. Make a budget and stick to it. Our family started a gift exchange so everyone gets one nice gift. elfster.com is a fun website that helps organize a gift exchange. And remember your child will appreciate time spent with you over gifts any day.
REMEMBER: What’s best for others is not necessarily best for you and your family. Do what’s best for YOUR family. The holiday season can still be magical, exciting, and beautiful.