Insights: Coping with the Holidays

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Fashion Island tree lighting-revWhat a fun time was had at the annual Christmas tree lighting at Fashion Island.

I loved watching the children’s faces as Mickey Mouse and his pals sang and danced to Feliz Navidad and many other traditional carols.

Best of all was when it began to snow (even though it was 70 degrees).

Oh yes, it’s the holiday’s again. Excited? Well some of you will be. Some of you may be stressing about “getting it all done” between now and the New Year.

And then there are those who are dreading this whole time period, or maybe even a mix of all three.

Over the years I have written about giving back and keeping perspective, but this year I am going to write about dealing with challenging family members.

So often we have this image of the perfect family, which can be a fantasy for many people. We might even look forward to the visit, promising ourselves this time will be different, and then once in the same room we can be triggered by past hurts and/or experiences. It is psychologically difficult to beat old patterns as they were created by our family.

So here is how to enjoy the holidays the best way possible:

  1. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Be realistic of your family dynamic and know that it will probably not be any different than the last holiday season. This keeps your expectations realistic.
  2. It’s not personal: How people act to you usually says more about them than it does about you. I often tell my client’s that if people spin around the room and turn green and purple you do not need to join them. Let people be who they are and not personalize their behavior.
  3. Take care of yourself: Know what you need to get through the holidays. If you know you can only manage the drama for an hour, stay only for an hour. Maybe plan a break and then come back. I am always looking for an excuse to get a massage, so if that would help you get through this time, book one for yourself.
  4. Strategize the challenges: Know what triggers you, and have a plan to get through them. If you know uncle Jack gets drunk and is critical, you have a couple of options—plan to leave if it gets to that point, or avoid being around him. You could even let him know beforehand if that does happen what the consequences will be.
  5. Have or do something that soothes you: As weird as this may sound, keeping yourself busy with doing the dishes may keep you out of the firing line. Maybe it is bringing a game that can distract people from the family stuff. How about distracting people with an after dinner walk?
  6. Take a deep breath: Before you respond or engage with anyone, take a breath. A nice deep breath allows you to think first. I find excusing myself to use the restroom helps me to regroup when needed. Or go for a walk.
  7. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries: I know you know this word. It is the most important one for you to remember. It is okay to say no, yes, or maybe, to let others know what you need and know when it is time to leave. Do not allow others to determine how this time will be for you. You get to determine that.

So maybe your family is not quite like the carol “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” but more like “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer,” just remember to bring your sense of humor, be realistic with your expectations and enjoy. You might be surprised at how this will get you through so much.

Happy Holidays!

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at [email protected] or

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