Holiday Stress: Not Very Merry

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Holiday Stress: Not Very Merry

The holidays, magically coined to be a time of wonder, joy, and togetherness, are actually not-very-merry for many people. Though we generally struggle to manage stress throughout the year, the holidays can intensify underlying issues and painful emotions. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2006 and found that while 78% of respondents reported feeling often happy around the holidays, about two-thirds sometimes or often felt stressed and fatigued.

These have been some tough times with the Great Recession. Couple that with higher rates of depression, anxiety and the commonplace reality of the dysfunctional family; the Currier and Ives winter-wonderland fantasy can quickly melt away into a chilly, greyish slush of stress. What can we do when we feel not-very-merry during the holidays? Here are some tips:

  1. Go back to basics. Stay out of the malls and away from online shopping and create something with your own hands. Cards, cookies, cakes, jam, knit items, seedlings that will grow in the spring…these activities will fire your neurons up and left in your brain, moving away from negative emotions and generating a better feeling outcome.
  2. Think about others who are struggling and do some small act of charity. Whether it is dropping off a toy for a child in the hospital, dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, cooking a meal for someone who is sick. Engage in random acts of kindness and remain anonymous.
  3. Take care of yourself: get exercise, don’t binge on sweets; and most of all, get plenty of sleep.
  4. Give yourself permission to say “No”.  It is okay to be mindful of what you can realistically fit into your schedule and when you need to do nothing but put your feet up and rest.
  5. Be careful with alcohol use. Even recreational use of alcohol is typically increased during this time of year. Don’t forget that alcohol is a depressant and it interrupts restful sleep patterns.
  6. Ask for help and delegate. Be conscious of your limitations and don’t sacrifice your well-being to please everyone else. That’s no fun for you or them.
  7. Know your triggers. If you are spending time with extended family and friends, remember your hot-buttons with those select few who can be trouble-makers. Keep the conversation light and simple and refuse to get drawn into dysfunctional drama.
  8. Remember the phrase “holy day” as the basis of the word holiday and engage in some form of spiritual practice: meditate, pray, count your blessings (even if on one hand), visit a new house of worship, light candles, hike in nature, listen to music, play games together…whatever resonates for you.

As you move through the holiday season, remember its universal theme on a personal level: envision peace in your inner world and practice good will onto yourself. All the best to you and yours!


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Relationships and Attachment

The success of a relationship may very well be based on how you tend to form attachments; a style that became hard-wired into the brain at a very early time of life. If your parents used a particular style of attaching with you in infancy and early childhood, that will contribute to the infrastructure for how you tend to attach as an adult.

People tend to form attachments on a continuum which has avoidant attachment at one extreme; anxious attachment at the other extreme and secure attachment at the midpoint. The anxious connector will sometimes appear to be clingy, mistrusting, and possessive about his/her partner. The avoidant connector will sometimes appear to be indifferent, disinterested and withdrawn. Some people make attachments with others that go from one extreme to the other: “I don’t want you; please don’t leave me!” They overshoot that midpoint of secure attachment and don’t get much joy or comfort from their connections with others. Here is a rather primitive graphic, illustrating the concept:

<-Avoidant———-Secure———-Anxious->

My mother, God bless her, would worry like crazy about her kids. She was overprotective and overly concerned that some awful danger would befall us. She was anxious in her style of attachment. Guess how I tend to attach?… That’s right; I am an anxious attacher. My husband is more avoidant. Sometimes we go round and round: when I start trying to control him, he keeps to himself and ignores me. When he is acting aloof, I tend to try to get him to engage with me; sometimes by picking a fight with him. Neither of these approaches work very well, so we have to consciously make adjustments.

The age-old rule of “opposites attract” also applies here. We will often find an avoidant attacher paired up with an anxious attacher. They end up unconsciously enabling each other in their respective styles. The more an anxious attacher goes after an avoidant partner, the more avoidant that partner becomes. Conversely, the more withdrawn an avoidant partner becomes, the more anxiously his/her counterpart behaves.

The good news is that if you have some awareness about how you both tend to attach, you can each work on taking a step in toward that midpoint of secure attachment. An anxious attacher will do very well with a word or two of reassurance. An avoidant attacher will be more present when she/he can have a bit of space and private time.

An understanding of the attachment style of both you and your significant other will protect your relationship from unnecessary conflict because if you understand your respective styles, you will take the attaching behavior of your significant other a lot less personally. You can then be present to support each other in stretching out of attachment comfort zones to meet somewhere in the middle with a secure connection.


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Divorce and Children: Protecting the Innocent

Divorce can become a very self-centered time for parents. I do not mean this in a judgmental way. There, but for the grace of God, go I. During my divorce, which took place over 25 years ago, I became so anxious for my own future, I didn’t take the time to empathize with my children’s experience and I believe they suffered as a result.

This is so sad because secure attachment for children is key to their healthy development and something like divorce can interrupt this attachment and in so doing, create anxiety, depression, under-achievement, behavioral and health problems for kids.

Research demonstrates that children who see their parents work to get along, during and post-divorce, fare just as well developmentally as children whose parents remain married. How sad that some divorcing parents, consciously or unconsciously, emotionally abuse their children by treating them as objects rather than human beings. They power-struggle with a tug-of-children that leaves the child internally conflicted with loyalties and betrayals; all this pain for a situation the kids did not ask for and had no control over.

We see this type of behavior when parents repetitively talk about time with their kids as “my time”. Sometimes they will power-struggle with each other about “my time with my child” and demand that any missed time must be made up because it belonged to one parent. As you can see, this is all about the parent and has no compassion for the experience of the child. Wouldn’t it be more child-centered to refer to that time as “our child’s time with me”?

Think and inquire about what your child needs from you as an innocent participant in the face of divorce. Instead of demanding, “Today Johnny is mine!”; you might request, “I think Johnny is really needing and wanting to spend some time with me. I also believe this is very important to his well-being and his growth.” Notice how this approach puts the child in the forefront, not you. When a child observes this type of behavior from a parent, the child does not experience being in the middle.

Also, no matter how contentious your divorce, it is imperative for the child (except, of course, for extreme reasons of physical and emotional threat) that the child be supported to maintain an ongoing relationship with each of his/her parents. When the child observes you being supportive of his/her relationship with the other parent, the child is liberated to continue in secure attachment and therefore, enjoy all the developmental gifts inherent in that process.

If you are divorcing and can not see the “parenting forest for the trees”, get some support from a Collaborative Child Specialist.  The Collaborative Child Specialist is a licensed clinical mental health professional with specialized training and experience in working with children.  Unlike a court evaluator or a parenting coordinator, the Child Specialist does not assess, evaluate or make recommendations. The Child Specialist is neutral to both parents and an advocate for the children. One of the major advantages of the Collaborative Process is to build upon the strengths and cooperation of the parents so they can become more aware of the challenges their child faces in divorce; prioritize those challenges, and then share their commonly held value of their child’s well-being  to work together to meet the needs of their child.

Parents are more receptive to hearing information about their children because they know that the Specialist is not in a position of “choosing” which of them is the best parent, but is only there to be a voice for their children.  Parents then have the responsibility of taking that valuable information about their child to heart so that they can make the necessary co-parenting adjustments that puts the child in the forefront.

A Collaborative Child Specialist is a precious gift to both children and parents of divorce. Seek a Collaborative Divorce and receive this professional feedback for the good of your children. You can find all the information you need on the websites of the Collaborative Divorce Institute: http://www.collabortivedivorceinstitiute.com and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals: http://www.collaborativepractice.com/.