Release Date: 12/7/2011
Psychologist offers tips on how to deal with family and holiday stress
Lori Tagger, Ph.D., is a psychologist at St. Anthony’s Medical Center's Hyland Behavioral Health
Being together with family. It’s what many people cite as the number one best thing about the holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the season offers a multitude of opportunities to visit with family. But for some, increased time with family isn’t necessarily a good thing and, in fact, can spell trouble.
Family friction during the holidays not unusual, says Lori Tagger, Ph.D., a psychologist on staff at St. Anthony’s Medical Center’s Hyland Behavioral Health.
Tagger says many factors can contribute to strained family relationships during the holidays, including unhappy memories from childhood or previous holidays, financial stress and feelings of obligation. Many people set themselves up for family problems because they have unrealistic expectations, she says.
“I call it the Hallmark influence – the fantasy that Christmas has to be picture-perfect; we all have to love one another, get along, sing carols around the tree, etc.,” Tagger says. “The fact is, not all families get along, and spending time with people you don’t get along with and expecting that it’ll be different this time or you have to be happy about it isn’t realistic.”
So what can people do to survive the relative encounters during the upcoming holidays? Tagger offers the following suggestions:
- Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or “just like last year.” As families change and grow, traditions and rituals change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.
- Set aside differences and grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Understand that others are feeling the effects of holiday stress, too, and don’t expect miracles in relationships that are tense.
- Set time limitations based on how much togetherness you and your family can take before feeling negative stress. Try a smaller time frame or alternate who you visit.
- Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.
- Be aware of your financial limitations. Stick to a budget you can afford and don’t try to buy happiness or respect with an avalanche of gifts. Remember, it’s the thought that’s important.
Tagger notes that it’s important for people to actively work at counteracting things that lower their defenses and coping skills.
“Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get plenty of sleep and physical activity,” she advises. “Taking time for yourself or time to relax improves your ability to cope with things.”
Most importantly, Tagger says, people should acknowledge their feelings during the holidays – a move that may make it easier to get along with others.
“It’s okay to express your feelings,” Tagger says. “You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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