By Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D.

All that Ho-Ho-Ho, crazed gift-shopping, eating, holiday travel and movies about families who learn to appreciate each other.  The stress is enough to turn the best of us into Scrooge.

    Any one of these topics deserves a lengthy discussion, but here are question and answer tips for the most frequent issues.
Q1.  I don’t have one of those wonderful movie families.  How can I handle being with mine during the holidays?

A: Oh those movies, that tinsel.  Instead of joy, they often create both unrealistic hopes for acceptance–and the anguish of dashed hopes.
But here are some tips so that you don’t dread the holiday season.
1.  Don’t expect to solve your family woes during the holidays.  Use the holidays to establish a new you by NOT acting as usual.  If your pattern is to sulk, withdraw or have one of those heart-to-heart “clear the air” talks with your family–don’t!  Instead, surprise them by acting in a new positive way.  Those long talks have a way of raising expectations that later fizzle when you can’t sustain the good feelings and behavior.
For example, announce you would like their help in compiling an up to date contact list of everyone, including their birthdays and anniversaries.  Explain that as you get older, you really appreciate family more. 
2.  Make sure to follow up during the year by sending cards and emails.  Over time, you will establish a new view of you–which will make THEM act differently toward you.
3.  However, if there is a topic that must be addressed, such as what to do about sister’s drug addiction, meet briefly, making sure to set up a communication method such as emails or conference calls. 

Q2.  We’ve lost that loving feeling.  How do we get it back?
A. Families can get in ruts.  Why not suggest some of these tips to re-ignite family closeness.
1.  Everyone writes down one positive and caring message that they would like to say to at least one family member.  Put it under their plate or chair.  Of course, put someone in charge of checking that each person gets at least one comment.
2.  Volunteer.  Giving to others is a sure way to feel better. Make it a family effort.  Rescue an animal, adopt a family or veteran, bring food or gifts to the local soup kitchens for the holidays.  Go through your toys and clothes and donate them together as a family.
3.  Video each family member and ask them to say what they are thankful for or what they want to improve about themselves for the next year.  At next year’s holiday, watch the videos.
4.  For family members who have recently died or who are away serving in the armed forces, make videos for and about them where everyone gets to say a few words.  Everyone can write a card to send to soldiers.  Discuss how else you can honor, remember or include that person.  Tell funny stories.  Kind laughter always brings people together. Some families still set a place for the deceased and missing person and go around the table telling fond memories about them!

Q3.  We’re stuck in “that’s how we always do it.“  How can we add new things to our celebration?
A. Rituals are very important.  They form the emotional mortar of memories and feelings.  Yet, families change–someone is born, someone dies or someone gets divorced or remarried.  The players are always changing–and so should SOME of your holiday traditions.  Here are a few ideas.
1.  Create a suggestion box where everyone writes down a new idea for what they would like to add or change about how they celebrate the holidays.
2. Everyone writes down what they like best about the family holiday celebration.  Put the ideas in a bowl and have each family members pick one.  Be sure to help the little ones by writing down their ideas for them.
3. Don’t EVER do away with Aunt Barbara’s horrible fruit cake or Cousin Lucie’s too dry potatoes.  Some things can’t be altered!  But you can have an additional dish that is similar.

Q4.  I’ m really trying to diet.  How do I handle all that food at the holidays?
A:  It’s probably best to start your diet BEFORE the holidays.  Join a gym, start a buddy exercise group and see your doctor.  At the holidays, here are some ideas to consider.
1. Announce to your family that you need their help in sticking to your diet.  Tell them that you do NOT, under any circumstances, want to hear, “Oh, splurge.  It’s the holidays.”
2.  Ask them to say, “STOP” when they see your plate is full.
3.  Think about this:  After the second bite, your taste buds are already approaching saturation of that taste.  Any further eating is emotional eating.  So, limit yourself to two small bites of your favorite No-No food–and eat VERY slowly.

Q5.  We don’t have a lot to spend on gifts.  We used to give lots of them, but now we can’t.  What else can we do to cut our expenses and still express our love?
A.  Oh, we all know that money spent does not equate with love–but yet getting a gift is so much fun!  Here are some tips for an economical but loving holiday.
1.  Everyone puts their name in a bowl, and each person draws one name.  Or, group the names according to ages or relation to the family so that little children, for example, draw the name of a cousin.
2. Limit how much each person spends.
3. Each person buys one gift card of a certain amount, puts them into a bowl, and each person draws a card.  If you don’t’ like your card, then make it a family game of who will swap with you.
4.  Do a free or almost free activity together.  Go sled-riding, go for a walk, watch a family movie together and make less food. 

Q6.  I have to divide my time between divorced parents or my ex.  I hate this stress!  How can I change it?
A. Blended and divorced families have an especially hard times at the holidays–especially if the ex or children are not cooperative.  There are no magic solutions, but here are some decisions that other families in similar situations have done.
1.  Divide the actual holiday into segments.  For example, you have Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Christmas dinner.  Or, the different nights of Hanukkah.  Devise a plan for who goes where.  And then ALTER it for next year so eventually everyone feels that they “got the best one.”
2.  If you all get along, invite everyone!
3.  If you live close by, have dessert at another family member’s house.
4.  Talk to each family member about the discomfort of splitting up the holidays.  Ask for their ideas.  Sometimes, the best ideas come from the kids.  For example, the children of divorced parents suggested that each parent go out to dinner at the same restaurant and sit at different tables far apart.  The children are free to move between the tables.

Q7.  I’m single and I hate the holidays.  I feel so alone and like a loser, I’m embarrassed to admit.  What can I do to feel better?
A.  Sometimes there’s nothing like a bunch of nieces and nephews, married siblings and disappointed and prying relatives to put the kibosh on feeling good at the holidays.  Here are some tips to help you boost your self-esteem.
1.  Stop blaming yourself for being alone.  Self-blame is a trick to deflate your self-worth so that you do NOT “get out there again in the dating world and get hurt again.”  Oops–if this sounds like you, you’ve just conned yourself. 
2.  Instead of dodging or anticipating nosy questions about your love life from family members, take control.  ASK for their advice about what you should do.  Yes, that’s right.  ASK them.  These critical people usually don’t have such exact answers.  You will end up either quieting them–or getting good ideas.
3. Make a list of your accomplishments and positive characteristics and go over them BEFORE you step foot in your sibling’s or parents’ home.
4.  Remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with wanting to find a partner.
5.  Also remind yourself not to measure your success in life only or chiefly with your love and relationship status.
6. Announce to your family that you would be interested in getting fixed up.  Yes!  Do it.  Ask them if they know of anyone or any groups you should join.  It’s likely that they have ideas but have been reluctant to mention any of them.

Q8.  Do I have to make New Year’s resolutions?
A. Well, it’s not a law.  Some people don’t make any–and do just fine.  But if you would like to make a resolution, here are some tips.
1.  Get a plan and start it BEFORE the New Year.  Words and self-promises are easy.  To jump-start your resolve, initiate your efforts before the end of the year.  If you want to lose weight, join a program now.  Or, make that doctor’s appointment now.  If you want to date new people, join a dating service or organization now.  More importantly, in your daily life, get brave and introduce yourself to anyone who looks interesting.  Push yourself.  Get brave.  You only live once!
2.  Get a buddy.  One of the tools of Alcoholics Anonymous is to establish sponsors for each person.  Turn a friend into your personal sponsor about any issue that is important to you.  For example, find a work out buddy.  Or, pick a friend or family member to call so you can strategize a business plan or new way of dealing with your children.  Don’t go it alone!

Happy Holidays!
Dr. Leslie Beth (LB) Wish, a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializes in women’s issues about work, career, love and stress.  She serves on the Medical Advisory Board of , a Top Ten health site, and writes the weekly column “Relationship Realities” for their Relationships and Sexual Health newsletter.  Sign up for the newsletter on the quality health site.

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