2018 Holiday Blog Post

How to Manage the Holidays as a Couple

Part 5 of our Holiday Blog Series

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Holidays are supposed to be an exciting time filled with love and joy, a time to strengthen bonds in our relationships . The season revolves around seeing family and friends, sharing great food and good cheer.  Yet from budding relationships to the most veteran couples, it can be a time of great stress and conflict.


So You’ve Started a New Relationship

If you are in a new relationship, the holidays can bring excitement for the monumental “firsts” together.  However, those “firsts” can be accompanied by stress and uncertainty. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute have studied thousands of couples to determine the formula for success in committed relationships. They assert that it is important to discuss how you want to celebrate the holidays and what the holidays mean to you.  

The more intentional you are about your holiday rituals, the more meaningful your holidays (and your marriage) will be.  Creating rituals deepens your connection with your partner, and the Gottmans actively promote creating your own rituals as a couple or family. While each individual may have important family rituals they already follow, there are many  opportunities to create new ones together. Ultimately, these shared rituals will strengthen the bonds you share with your partner.

Where to Spend the Holidays?

It is essential to discuss which holidays are important to you both, is Thanksgiving the most important, or is it Independence Day, Christmas, or Hanukkah?  What are your expectations around celebrating these holidays? Discuss each of your priorities and find a way to equitably share the holidays together.

Is it possible to alternate where you celebrate every other year so it feels more fair? If distance isn’t an overriding factor, is it possible to split your time between both families on the actual holidays so everyone is happy? Or if Thanksgiving is more important to one family, and Christmas to another,  can you spend one with each? If you are an interfaith couple there may even be more options outside of the secular holidays. You also may want to start your own tradition and host your family and friends at your place!

Prepare Your Partner

Another area of concern can be preparing your partner to meet your family. Even if your partner has met your family only a few times, or has known them for years, celebrating with family  can be anxiety-provoking. It may be helpful to inform your partner of special family traditions and bring them up to speed on any family dynamics they may need to be aware of.

Preparing your partner can help reduce stress and pave the way for a frictionless celebration. However, if  visiting your family continues to be a source of angst, be mindful that it is only a few times a year, and even a few hours per visit at that, and  try to maintain a positive attitude going into the party.

Take it Easy

Gatherings can be nerve-wracking, but drinking too much to calm the nerves is never the answer. It’s helpful to monitor your drinking so you can always remain composed and in control. Later, you won’t regret remaining sober or limiting yourself to only one or two drinks, and the chances of a positive experience and outcome is so much greater.

Have Each Other’s Back

If conflict ensues between your partner and your family during the holiday festivities, it is important to be loyal to your partner.  David Burns’ “EAR Approach” can serve as a useful tool for navigating conflicts with each other.

EAR means:

Empathy:  Did I acknowledge what my partner was thinking and feeling or was I defensive?

Assertiveness,: Did I make “I feel” statements or blame my partner for the problem?

Respect, was I caring even if I was irritated?  

Consider “soft start-ups” meaning, when you present your need,  do so in a loving and caring way (versus launching into attack mode.)  Where can you be more flexible? Can you arrive at a compromise together?    

Enjoy Meaningful Time Together

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays together.  Holidays have a range of meaning to different people. It is paramount to discuss with your partner your hopes and dreams with respect to where you want to spend the holidays, what traditions are the most important to you, and what you are willing to compromise on.  The ideal scenario is to strike a balance so everyone is comfortable and satisfied.

Many couples divide and conquer with respect to the holidays and spend time apart visiting their respective families. Often they do this  because they couldn’t strike a balance between visiting their respective families, and instead of making a joint decision, moved forward independently with their own plans.  There could be other reasons, and this is not to be judged. It’s just that my hope is that because you are a couple, you continue to celebrate important holidays and family time together and find your own unique traditions and rituals!

Laura Goldstein, LMSW, is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, read her bio here.

’Tis the Season: It Is Okay To Feel ‘Blah’ Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays

Part 4 of our Holiday Blog Series

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When holiday music echoes through the halls of department stores and busy employees hustle to meet their year-end goals, you know the holiday season has begun. However, it can be hard to spread holiday cheer if you’re missing that someone special.

If you’ve experienced a loss recently,  or even if you miss someone who passed away decades ago, the holidays can be a difficult time. Here are some tips to help you cope with loss during this festive season. Using these tools, you may even begin to look forward to the holidays again!


Be Honest with yourself

The holidays are a great-time to engage in some self-reflection and to take stock of your true feelings. It’s okay if you don’t feel cheery about the holiday season. Everyone grieves differently, and it is important to he honest with yourself about what you need. Decide which festivities you wish to take part in, and which you prefer to skip. Express your wishes clearly to your loved ones. Setting expectations with family and planning ahead can reduce your stress later.

If you find yourself at a party,  it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment and remove yourself from the crowd. Take a walk outside, focus on your breathing, or leave if you feel you’ve have had enough. Thinking ahead about your coping skills can help alleviate the stress of being in a social setting that may produce feelings of grief and sadness.

Take time to remember

Often we just go through the motions of performing holiday-related tasks to avoid what is actually on our minds. We may find ourselves buying gifts for loved ones and attending parties, seemingly swept up in the holiday spirit, but are we?  It is easy to be overwhelmed and lose track of your own grief when others around you may seem to be in the holiday spirit. Before you know it, another holiday has come and gone, but you remain immersed in feelings of sorrow. To make it worse, there are constant reminders at the holidays of moments you may have shared with the person you are grieving that may make it hard to forget.

Taking a few minutes to remember a loved one during the holidays can allow you the time to grieve. For example, my grandmother passed five years ago and she loved the holidays, so my family and I always take the time at Christmas dinner to talk about happy memories. We remember her singing her heart out in the church choir which always brought a smile to our faces. Taking a brief moment to remember allows us to openly express how we feel, rather than avoid her absence. Acknowledging the person you miss can make the holiday more meaningful, but it doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with the other people you love.

Traditions

Whether you create new traditions or continue the traditions you had when a loved one was with you, it can be helpful to do things to make them feel like a part of the holidays. Decide which traditions you enjoyed with your loved one, as well as any new traditions you may want to start in memory of him or her. If your grandmother made the best apple pie, make it! Of course she will not be the one making it, and it may not taste as good as hers did, but she will have a seat at your holiday table and that will make it an even more memorable. My friend’s mother passed away last year and loved running at the beach, now her family has a new tradition of running on the beach every Thanksgiving. New traditions can help carry on the memory of those we love, and make the traditions you shared with the person more meaningful.

Take Time for You

Coping with the loss of a loved can feel overwhelming near the holidays. You may find yourself consoling others (a spouse, children, siblings, parent, etc.) when you need consoling yourself!  However, in order to grieve and find peace, it is most important to focus on ourselves. Continue with the things you like to do at the holidays, and don’t feel guilty for doing so. The person you miss would be happy you did.

As difficult as it may seem, do not shy away from friends and obligations, especially  if you are doing so just to avoid difficult conversations. Talking about your loved one can be therapeutic, and your friends and family will understand if you say you do not want to talk about it anymore. Another option is to seek professional help from a therapist. A therapist can offer a safe space to grieve and process your thoughts. Therapy allows us to express private or intimate thoughts we may not feel comfortable sharing with other people,

Although sleeping in and not getting dressed up for that Secret Santa dinner party may sound like a good idea, surrounding yourself with the people may be just the thing you need! Don’t get me wrong, if you need the occasional night at home near the holidays that’s OK, just make sure you understand why you are doing so, and try to avoid doing it habitually.

I hope you have found this helpful. You should understand that It’s OK if the holidays are not always cheerful to you. Often, when we don’t feel like talking about our grief that is the most important time to do so. Confide in the people closest to you (or a therapist) and try to not bottle up your emotions. That’s easier said than done--I know. It takes courage and trust, but over time you will feel better. Happy Holidays!

Alysha Perlman, LCSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out her bio here.


Maintaining Holiday Cheer While Queer

Part 3 of our Holiday Blog Series

The holidays can be a difficult time of year for anyone -- managing expectations, too much time spent with family members, avoiding politics like the plague and so on. In particular, it can be an extremely challenging period for individuals in LGBTQ communities. The holidays present a unique challenge of prolonged interaction with family members who may reject a significant part of your identity.

Some family members may be reluctant to accept, have trouble understanding, or even work to actively alienate queer identities. There tends to always be at least one aunt inquiring about when you will ‘find a husband,’ one uncle telling inappropriate jokes about you and your same-sex partner, and if you identify as gender non-binary or transgender, you can likely anticipate some underhanded comments about the way you are dressed. Deciding what to wear at all can be overwhelming -- do you wear the clothes to appease your family and maintain holiday equilibrium or wear what you feel comfortable and most like yourself in? The list of possibilities for stress can be daunting.

May I step in to assist you in your journey this holiday season? I would like to share some thoughts on what I have found helpful in maintaining balance during the holiday season.

Practice acceptance

Radical acceptance is a concept practiced in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and it can be very useful when interacting with people or situations you find frustrating. You cannot control or change those around you -- you can only control yourself and your responses. By entering these situations with an attitude of acceptance, you relinquish the futile fight with reality that makes painful situations more difficult. There is a misconception commonly held about acceptance. Acceptance does not mean you support the microaggressions at the holiday dinner table. It means that you recognize they happened and are choosing not to engage in a battle with them. The energy required from refusing to accept the realities of painful situations with the people you care about ultimately leads to suffering. With the state of politics in America, suffering during family conversations is at capacity.

Take space

Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself or take a walk to catch a break from extended “extrovert” time. Not only does a 10-minute stroll allow you a small break from interaction-overload, it’s also known to alleviate anxiety and depression. A quick and mindful walk can serve to provide hours of stress-relief. If taking off for a stroll isn’t feasible, removing yourself for ten minutes for some deep, measured breathing can provide similar relief. Giving yourself time will make you a more engaged holiday party attendee in the long-run.

Process before responding (S.T.O.P.)

This is another handy DBT exercise. The acronym STOP stands for -- Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed mindfully. Do you feel tight in your chest after a difficult conversation? Is anxiety creeping up? Notice it, and respond accordingly. Before reacting impulsively and responding in a manner that may cause you more distress down the line, take a minute to breathe. So much can happen during that pause. You may decide your impulse to respond with venom may not be worth the trouble. You may become aware that perhaps your feelings have roots elsewhere and need to be explored outside of the current conversation. Allowing yourself a pause to explore where your feelings are coming from can help ground and center you in the moment.

Respect your limits

If you feel exhausted from seemingly futile debates about discrimination, offensive language, or just plain ignorance, you can always opt out. It is not your responsibility to be the all-knowing representative and educator for the entire LGBTQ community. Respecting your limits about what conversations you decide to engage in can help alleviate unnecessary stress.

Allow for self-compassion.

This is my most important point. If you find yourself engaging with thoughts of self-loathing, guilt, or shame, notice them and kindly ask them to step aside. Those parts of you are not needed right now. What if a friend were leveling some of these criticisms at you? Would you keep that friend around? It can often be so much easier to offer compassion to others before ourselves. No need to reprimand yourself for having these thoughts – acknowledge them, know there are reasons why they surface, and do your best to afford yourself kindness and caring, as you would a close friend.

I hope these pointers help you maintain some cheer while queer during this holiday season. At the very least, I hope they serve as a reminder that you are not alone. Bravery has been required of you every second in this life. I hope you will be soft with yourself this year and tend to your needs in the way you deserve.


Sally Scheidlinger, LMSW, specializes in working with the LGBTQ population as a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about her, check out here bio here.


Preventing the Holiday Blues and Staying Sober

Part 2 of our Holiday Blog Series

The holiday season is sold as a time of celebration, good cheer and material wealth. As much as we want to embrace these tales, the expectations and experiences of the holiday season can create strong emotional ups and downs which often leads to  the holiday blues. For those in recovery, this can also bring about times of trepidation and temptation.

Why do the blues hit during this otherwise festive season? During the busiest time of the year, doing too much (or too little) can produce feelings of anxiety or a sense of not having enough. Being separated from loved ones or missing a lost someone can also bring about sadness during the holidays, Sadness is an emotion to embrace, but not always welcome with all the holiday cheer. Likewise, many in recovery might associate the holidays with mixed memories of overindulgence, an embarrassing episode, or a destructive big bender. Conflicting feelings of anxiety/depression, happy/sad, excited/sacred, plentiful/lonely are common emotions that may produce triggers or signals for relapse.

Developing a holiday plan to help prevent the blues can help defer and deter these feelings so we can, in fact, embrace and enjoy the festivities and celebrations of the season.

Here are a few suggestions to achieve a joyful and sober holiday season:

Enhance your support system. Holidays are a good time to reach out more frequently to your therapist, sponsor, spiritual advisor, and/or support group. Spend time with your fellow recovering people. Call your friends instead of texting. Reconnect with those far away. Find your strength and reach out to those you need and trust. Learn to say "no" in a way that is comfortable for you to best realize your personal limits.

Focus on your recovery program. This is an important time to focus on the specifics of your recovery program. Take a look at what exactly you are working on right now (a step, a reading, a process, etc.), what is not working, and what worked in the past. Discuss this with your counselor, friends or sponsor. Go to meetings. Do service work. Help others—It is the season of giving!

Release your resentments. Resentment allows a person or feeling you dislike to live in your head, rent-free. Resentments that gain steam during the holidays can be disastrous for recovering people. Again, find your source for ways to let go of anger, difficult people, and old thought patterns. Try to bring about the joy of the holidays with the adage of Forgive and Forget. Letting these resentments and toxic thoughts can open us up to see and feel the good the season brings about. We can often learn from our most difficult relationships. Try asking, how does this person, or this situation serve as my teacher?

Don't overindulge. Easy does it. Stick to your routines and plans. Monitor your intake of caffeine, sugar, and anything out of the ordinary. Watch out for the holiday sweets and maintain a balanced diet. Get plenty of rest, keep exercising, and maintain a schedule. In these busy days, it is best to plan ahead to avoid stress and keep yourself on track.

Party Tricks:

Bring Your Own: To ensure sure you have something non-alcoholic to drink, bring it yourself! Bring a non-alcoholic fizzy juice, your favorite seltzer, some specialty soda, or a festive punch. You may find yourself the hero for other adults who limit their consumption of alcohol. A tasty non-alcoholic beverage will give you something to hold and may prevent people from offering you an alcoholic drink.

Your Modus Operandi: For social situations that may be less familiar, or with peer pressure, it is helpful to have a quick response for why you are not drinking at this event: “I’m trying to lose some weight”, “Not drinking tonight—need a holiday party breather”, “I’m the designated driver tonight,” or, “Doesn’t fit into my exercise program” are some examples.  Whatever the retort, having one in mind will build your confidence which helps fend off any further questions.

Limit Yourself: Be choosy about the holiday events you attend and avoid people pleasing by saying “yes” to everything. Listen to yourself and learn to say “no," especially those parties that may be higher risk or that you don’t need/want to attend.

In and Out: Bring a sober friend, arrive late and leave early.

Find new ways to celebrate. Create some new symbols and rituals for YOU that redefine the holiday season. Host a holiday gathering for special friends and/or attend celebrations of your support group. Avoid isolation and spend time with people you like especially when you "don't really feel like it." Don't expose yourself to unnecessary temptations, such as gatherings where alcohol is the center of entertainment. If you can, avoid the people, place and things that have a negative influence on you.

You First. Slow. Down. No matter how busy, find some quiet time each day and work on an attitude of gratitude. Continue your self-care regiment whatever that might be: meditation, podcasts, walk around the block, journaling, alone time—just keep doing it, on a daily basis. Exercise regularly to help maintain your energy level amid a busier schedule. Relax your standards and reduce overwhelming demands and responsibilities to help prevent anxiety and stress levels as best you can.

Even if you struggle and find it tough going, know "This Too Shall Pass" and there is more life after the holidays.

Recovery is serious work and it is important to have fun. Laugh a little. And a little more. Embrace the season as best you can, bring new light, ideas, approaches and attitudes to your celebration. Look for the humor in those things around you, try to spot the joy of the children. Through sobriety and a strong program, enjoy the very best in your holiday season.


Douglas Brown, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. To learn more about him, check out his Bio here.


When It’s Not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The first installment in our Holiday Blog Series

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Happy Holidays! I haven’t even finished my Halloween candy, but stores are already playing Christmas music and my Starbucks cup is telling me I should be radiating joy. We are often told that this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Nevertheless, this season is sometimes one of the toughest times for many. Holidays have a way of creating social pressure, and bringing up tough memories. Pressures on finances, strained relationships, dwindling hours of sunlight (my personal least favorite), over-eating and drinking, and family disagreements over politics don’t always turn out to be merry and bright. Sometimes, they are bleak and sad.

If you’re not feeling jolly, you aren’t alone. This blog series is designed to help us cope with some common holiday stressors. For now, here are a few quick tips for how to deal when the holidays when you are not feeling cheerful.  


Take what you like, and leave the rest

Not liking certain things about the holiday season may make you feel like a Grinch, but you don’t have to write it off altogether just because you don’t love every day from Thanksgiving on through to the New Year. I love Thanksgiving, but find holiday shopping overwhelming and exhausting. On the other hand, I have one friend who can’t wait to finish the family meal so they can go shopping at midnight on Black Friday. Growing up Jewish I often felt left out on Christmas. While the 25th was not my favorite day, I loved walking around drinking cider and looking at the lights throughout December. You can have fun moments even if you don’t love the whole season.

Remember there’s no “right” way to celebrate

I got engaged this year, which lead to my fiancé and I talking about holiday traditions. I noticed my brain was telling me married people “should” spend all their holidays together. If we both want to spend Thanksgiving with our families of origin, and that means being separate, so what? If you want to spend the holiday with only your partner, that is also OK! If going out on New Years isn’t your scene, stay in! Even if it looks like everyone on your news feed is taking pictures under a ten-foot Christmas tree or is out partying all night on New Year’s Eve, you’re not alone in wanting to do something different. If you find yourself thinking in a lot of “I should” statements, try to push those aside and prioritize doing what will truly bring you the most joy.

Find room for Compromise:

It’s easy to say just don’t go to events when you don’t want to, but lots of us have occasions we are obligated to attend. However, this does not have to equal spending a week at home with family you do not get along with every holiday. Maybe you agree to go to your Mom’s house for Thanksgiving, but ask your family to travel to you for a Hanukkah dinner. If you’re making a trip back home but don’t feel comfortable staying there for a full week, it’s OK to only go for a night or two and stay in a local hotel or with a friend for part of the time. You might hear some grumbles from your grandma, but there is no requirement you have to stay for the four days after Thanksgiving or the whole week between Christmas and New Years.

Practice generosity:
The research on this is pretty clear; we get more from giving than from receiving. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on gifts. It might mean Venmo-ing a friend who you might not be able to visit $5 for their morning coffee, or offering your seat on the subway to someone who looks like they are having a hard day. These little gestures don’t require going into debt, but can make someone’s day and make you feel good about yourself.

Don’t throw your routine to the wind:

After a long year, we often feel like we deserve to let loose during the holidays. And you do; however, treating yourself and your normal self care routine do not have to be mutually exclusive. If you usually wake up before 8, exercise four days a week, and eat pretty healthily, you’re not going to feel great if you let that all go for a week. Nobody expects you to give up your Thanksgiving meal or Hanukkah Gelt, but if you can get a few workouts in and get enough sleep, you’ll be able to cope with holiday stress better and it will be easier to return to your routine.


Practice self-compassion:

Anticipate that the holiday season will have some tough moments. I often see clients get mad at themselves when self-care doesn’t work or that they’re not over a difficult situation fast enough. However, it is not realistic to expect that taking a bubble bath or going to a yoga class is going to make you forget this is your first Thanksgiving without your grandpa. When you notice yourself having these emotions, take a moment to simply observe them without judgment. It can be helpful to say to yourself, “It’s understandable given (insert your situation) that I’m having a difficult time this year. I am going to try to be compassionate with myself.” Then place your hands on your chest, and take a moment to visualize sending yourself kindness. You might find that if you don’t beat yourself up over your emotions, they lose a little of their potency and pass more quickly.

If you already struggle with anxiety or depression, being told to be cheerful, merry, and bright can really feel like salt in a wound. I hope you’ll give some of these suggestions a try, and hope you find the rest of this series helpful as you navigate this tricky time of year. Happy Holidays!

Julia Lawrence, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about what it’s like to work with her here.