How to deal with family stress during the holidays

This is the second year I am writing about stress and the holidays.  Let’s face it; one could fill thousands of books about how to deal with the stress of the holidays.  However, I intend to be brief and just give you a few paragraphs to think about.  My philosophy in life and in my practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, is simplify, simplify, simplify.  Let’s not make anything more complicated or stressful then it needs to be.  To combat family stress during the holidays, I am suggesting that you create a simple plan, communicate the plan and then execute the plan and don’t forget to refine the plan.

Let’s get started.  Take out a piece of paper or create a new document on your computer.  Quickly write down the names of the people who stress you most around the holidays.  Then write down what is going on when the stress occurs.  Do some brainstorming with yourself to come up with some little changes that can help with this stress.  Be creative and remember that no idea is a bad idea it’s just that some ideas can work better than others.  For example, your sister insists on exchanging gifts and never gets you what you ask for, even though you exchange lists.  Maybe you can suggest that you all pool your money this year and give to a Storm Sandy relief charity.  Then if that goes well, you suggest doing something similar next year.  You should also plan for self-sabotage – doing those things that ensure that you don’t succeed at the original goal.  Oh yes, even when we are trying to do something good for ourselves, it is inevitable.  Use that information to fortify yourself when you see yourself slipping.

Here are some examples:

Who stresses me most? When does this happen? Ideas: How will I sabotage?
My sister When she insists on exchanging meaningless gifts Suggest donating to a Sandy Relief charity I might buy a gift in case my sister does anyway
My mother Insists on us spending too many holidays at her house Tell her how important time with just your core family is to you I might cave and tell her we can fit in a few hours at her house
My husband Never wants to tell his mother that driving to their house is too much Work with husband on how to tell his mother that having a day around the holidays when there is no traveling would work best for his well being I might let him talk me into the fact that we can’t break tradition

Now it is time to communicate this change.  This is most likely the hardest part about family stress.  How, after years of status quo, do you manage to change things?  One way I use and coach clients to use, is that this is about you and your wellness.  If you remember this, you might be able to find a new normal around the holidays.  A great line is ‘I am sure you will understand’, and then fill in what you want to communicate.  To follow my example above you can say “I am sure you will understand how I can’t conceive exchanging gifts this year when people have lost so much.  This is very important to me and I want us to combine our money for a gift to a charity for Storm Sandy relief.”  Who wants to be the one that goes against a statement like that?  Not me.  Remember what you are trying to create.  This is really getting back to what is most important about the holidays for you and what you want for your children.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to practice.  Think of what they might say.  Keep the message the same.  Don’t defend yourself.  Keep saying, “this is for me and my well being, I am sure you will understand”.

Now that it has been communicated, are you really committed to this change?  What will you do if you start to slip back into the “same old” mode?  What if you tried to communicate your change and it wasn’t heard?  Will you just be okay with it?  Or will you communicate your needs in a different way to be heard?  Now, start to implement this change.  Make it happen.  Again to follow the same example, you could send out emails to collect the money from the family for the charity.  Or find a charity you have researched and email family members to let them know this is the one that is the best fit.

Time to refine.  Daily, at bedtime if that works, take out a piece of paper and write down how you think you are doing to make your plan a reality.  What more needs to happen?  Who else needs to be your ally?  Who is still stressing you the most?  Can you avoid your exposure to them?  It is most important that you remember your own well being and health.  There doesn’t need to be so much stress.  It is your choice.  You can start new traditions now.  And if it is still stressful sometimes, remember to take time for yourself.  Exercise as much as possible, eat as healthy as you can, and practice other stress management techniques.  Check out my 5-minute meditation on YouTube to help you relax at night., scroll to the bottom, click on the video and enjoy!  Happy Holidays!

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT, Cht, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Hypnotherapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Trumbull.  She is a mother of 6-year-old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.  Her website is and phone is 203.274.0158.


Managing back to school anxiety for the whole family!

Written by Lenore Pranzo

Yes it is that time of year again, back to school!  It always brings that Staples commercial to mind ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’.  However it may not be for the kids and sometimes not for the parents either.  If you are already stressed and your kids are too, then read on.  If not, go put on some music and keep dancing around the house until the bus drops the kids home.  Otherwise to deal with the stress you can help your child and you identify where the anxiety is coming from, then you can work on strategies together for the school year and beyond.

How can you identify what the anxiety stems from?  First ask your child these questions:

  • Is it academic or social?
  • If it is academic, is there a specific subject?
  • If social, can you identify the situations you are most worried about?
  • Is there something else that you might be worried about?

Now that it is identified, state that one way to help with worrying about it is to work on new approaches.

  • How have you handled this in the past?
  • Did that work?
  • Was anyone helpful to you?
  • If so, can they continue to be helpful?
  • If not, can you think of anyone that can help?
  • For instance if you did x what do you think would happen?
  • What do you think would happen if you didn’t do what you normally do?

Tell them that if their new approach doesn’t work it is ok and it can continue to change.  These skills at helping working through problems, without you as the parent, coming up with the answers will help them enormously.  They will be more prepared for things and they will understand the learning process.

Now if your anxiety is starting to peak as well, you also need to identify where it stems from.  Is it about remembering your childhood anxiety?  Is it worry about your child’s academics and performing?  Is this worry about their performance based on realistic expectations?  Meaning is it super important that your child excel in one subject when they truly have more of an aptitude for other ones?  Are you comparing your family to other families and setting everyone up for too much stress?  Does your child need to play three sports and an instrument?  Just keep asking yourself what you want your child to gain from childhood.  Remember my blog on scaling back in an overscheduled world?  If not take a look back to last fall’s blogs where my article helps us remind ourselves to keep evaluating our schedules year after year.

If leading a calmer life is your goal for you and your family you might want to try yoga or meditation together.  Either find family yoga classes or research some DVDs that are good for all ages.  The meditation is something you can do by just putting on relaxing music and helping your child with their breath.  They don’t need much time and 5 minutes could be perfect for great results.  After they have practiced it remind them to use it during stressful or high anxiety situations.  I hope that this article was helpful.  If you have any questions, you can email me at or call 203.274.0158.

Some ideas on how to prepare for the summer with the kids

By Lenore Pranzo, LMFT

It’s that time of year again, school is almost out and the kids will be home all day.   Some parents love the laid back schedule of summer, while others find it hard to adjust to the energy level kids have in the summer.  For those who love the summer there is no need to read on.  For the rest of you, here are a few tips on dealing with summer.

How to embrace the slower pace of summer:

  1. Decide on the right amount of activity for your children.  Depending on their age you can ask them for their opinion.  Maybe a few weeks of camp over the course of the summer will be enough for you and them.
  2. Pick a few things you really want to do with the kids and spread those out over the whole summer.
  3. Try and remember what you loved about the summer while you were a kid and see if you can replicate that for your kids.
  4. Remember it isn’t about quantity, but quality.

Keep it simple.  You are not an entertainment director.  It is not necessary for your kids to have complicated activities every moment of every day. Here are some ideas for easy activities:

  1. The blanket thrown over the clothes line that turns into a secret cave.
  2. The sprinkler that always seemed to catch you unaware.
  3. Sleeping outside – right in front of the kitchen door – in the wilds of the back yard.
  4. Buy some 3 packs of white t-shirts (Fruit of the Loom, Hanes or whatever) and let the kids design a shirt with fabric markers.
  5. Solicit information from their teachers if they are in school about some easy, fun things to do that will also help them in the fall when school starts.

One other idea that I read about recently is to set up free camp for your kids:

  1. Coordinate with two or more families that you trust and who have similar parenting styles to yours.
  2. You each take a day to have all the kids at your house.
  3. You plan a few activities and crafts for the kids.
  4. Each kid brings his or her own food in a cooler.
  5. You only have all the kids once a week.
  6. You get free days to yourself while your kids are at the other “camps”.
  7. The kids get to have time with close friends in a slow paced comfortable environment.

Remember summers vacations are getting shorter and shorter each year.  Long gone are the three month summers of our youth.  Two months is about all they get and it goes really fast.  Allowing your kids to have more unstructured time is helpful in creating the much needed break from the rigors of school.  They will thank you for it.  Of course that may not happen until they are adults, but I promise they will thank you.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Fairfield.  She is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.  Her website is and phone is 203.274.0158.

Spring cleaning your emotional health

Spring is here and it can be a good time for spring cleaning your house, and also a good time to do a nice mental health cleanse. This time of year can be energizing with the blooming trees, flowers, birds, and pleasant weather. Take advantage of that energy and use it to take a good hard look at how you might want to change your life. One way to do this is by “meditating” or “visualizing” on what those changes might be. You may also consider changing a relationship by doing a “relationship cleanse”.

Meditating on what you want to see change in the spring is a healthy way to visualize areas of your life you would like to see change. Schedule some time a few days in a row for this process. Find a place in your home that you can spend 5 minutes without interruption. Take your smartphone and use Pandora radio tuned into the Calm Meditation station to get you started if you don’t have a relaxing CD. Find a comfortable position and start breathing through your nose and out through your mouth for about 10 breaths. Scan in your mind’s eye the areas of your life, family, work, health, etc. Picture one area you want to see change and focus on it. Picture what you will be doing differently, what people will see the change, and how you will feel if the change took place. Continue this process the next day or the next time you can meditate. Once you have a good idea of what you want to change write it down as your goal. Take this goal and define objectives and then tasks. An example would be:

Goal: Reduce the amount of yelling at the kids

• Take time to understand their behavior
• Use positive self talk/mantra
• Engage in ”fun” time with kids

• Use a journal and list the times that I yell the most and see what lead up to it
• Write a list of what the kids might be thinking or feeling when they act a way that gets me angry
• Write down some mantras/self talk to say out loud or to myself when I want to yell (“this isn’t that bad”, “yelling isn’t communicating”)
• Schedule time each day or a few days a week to play with the kids

Another area you can spring clean is your relationships. We can call this a “relationship cleanse”. Start by taking a look at relationships that have worked in past and those that didn’t. Write down what is most important to you in a relationship and what you cannot tolerate or what seems to exhaust you. Now picture your circle of relationships. The inner circle is usually made up of family and very close friends. For those people who are single this would include any relationship that you would consider significant. The next circle is good friends and family you don’t connect with as often. The outer circle would be those people you need to deal with either at work or school, however, you don’t need to have an intricate relationship. Once you look at criteria for each circle and you have mentally ‘tagged’ the people in your life as to which circle they fall into you can visualize how moving someone from one circle to another would improve your life. This visualization will help you see the boundaries you want to continue, remove or create.

Whatever you decide to do to make changes in your life you need to remember to start slow and make changes incrementally. Doing everything all at once tends to be overwhelming and not long lasting. Less really is more when it comes to mental health movement. Be sure to discuss any big changes with loved ones and get some help and support. If you find it hard to even think about making any changes and you are having trouble with everyday tasks, you might need to talk to a professional. Please don’t struggle with any type of depression by yourself. Ask around for referrals or go to for a Marriage and Family Therapist near you.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Fairfield. She is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management. Her phone is 203.274.0158 and website is

How to kick the blahs of winter

It is now February and the holidays are done.  We now have to deal with the aftermath.   The new toys still don’t have a place.  The kids aren’t going outside to play as often and seem to be inside all of the time.  For some of us the muffin top got bigger and is taunting you at every moment, especially when you drive (okay maybe it is just me).  How do we break the boring blah feeling that comes at this time of year?  Here are a few ideas you can try to get through until the spring:

  1. Sit with those feelings. Don’t fight them.  Sometimes we just need to let all those bad feelings take over for a bit.  However it would be more productive to schedule this in.  It sounds odd I know but can be very effective.  Pick a time during the day, maybe before the kids wake up or maybe lunchtime or after the kids go to bed.  Take that time to be sad or bored or annoyed.  Once you control the when and how, the feelings lessen. They will be less overwhelming.
  2. Enjoy the downtime and slower pace.  The kids are in bed, it is cold and dark outside.  Instead of worrying about the dirty kitchen, grab a book, kindle, or your iPad and relax!  If you have a hobby, (i.e. sewing, knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking) get to it and let the process and finished project exhilarate you again.
  3. Schedule some fun events.  Call friends for coffee, a walk, lunch, dinner, drinks, or whatever you enjoy doing.  Schedule some date nights.  Most schools are publishing their winter continuing education – how about line dancing or learning a craft?  Having these things to look forward to will help keep you upbeat.
  4. Create some outside activities inside.  Create a camp out with the kids, have an inside picnic or a treasure hunt.  My kids love pillow forts.  They also make trains, space ships and other great things out of the coach cushions.
  5. Turn on some music and dance with the kids.  Or your spouse for that matter.  Kids love to see us have fun and get goofy.  Their joy will spread.
  6. Just let the blah feeling pass on its own. We know that spring makes us feel better naturally and, as much as you may not believe it now, spring will come in its own time.

Spring will be here real soon.  In the meantime if you can’t shake your low moods, call a friend or family member that lifts your spirits.  If it gets to be too much and you are overwhelmed, you may need to get professional help.  Contact a friend or your insurance for a referral or check out for therapists in your area.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Fairfield.  She is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.  Her website is and phone is 203.274.0158.

Keeping it simple in the life of overscheduling

A month into the new school year is a good time to feel settled in and back in the groove. However it can also be a time that you realized maybe, just maybe there are too many darn things to do! There’s soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, football, music, and many other things to fill in every free moment. When does homework get done or a little family time? For those with preschoolers, maybe it is also too many playdates or storytimes. How does this happen so fast? It could be that we live in Fairfield County and sometimes we are valued by what we do or accomplish and not on our quality time. If this is sounding familiar now is the time to review the values and the lasting memories you want for your family.

It is a challenge raising responsible children versus overstressed children. It is important that children grow up to be responsible for their actions, work and behavior within reasonable limits. Think about how you grew up; what worked and what would you have changed about the choices you were given? Would you have liked to spend more time with your parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Would you have liked more activities? Were the activities you participated in ones that you wanted to do or your parents wanted you to do? Too many, none? How did it help your self-esteem and sense of belonging? What kind of family life do you want for your children? What combination of scheduled family time like game night, movie night, meals together? What rituals and traditions? How about out of the house activities? Does it always have to be sports or how about interests like the library, chess club or the arts? How do you balance everything and avoid running around from one thing to the next, barely able to eat dinner, going to sleep late and scarcely squeezing in homework?

Now it is time to plan. Take the time to streamline all of the activities in your family’s life and continue to check in with your children to see how stressful their schedule may be. How do you streamline all of the activities? Start with the answers to the above questions. Ask yourself and your family when they are the most happy. Then ask on a scale of 1-10 how happy each activity makes them. Are there outside expectations or pressure in doing an activity? What can wait for the summer when there is more time? Is one activity a season better? Check in with each member once a month to see how the new plan is working. Just working together to prioritize activities tells your children that you are more interested in what makes them happy rather than just “doing things”. As they review their schedule each month they will become more aware of how activities affect them. When they get older you may expand the criteria for an activity from “makes me happy” to “I enjoy being with others”, “makes me proud”, “I feel like part of a team”, “I feel healthy” or other things they value.

Remember what works for one year will need to be reevaluated the next. One child might be able to handle and thrive on many activities while another might not want more than one. Continue to discuss with your children and help them prioritize. Most importantly remember to schedule and find time for family. Family dinners are perfect for communicating about the day. Family movie nights with DVDs and popcorn go a long way as well. Remember do you want a Webster definition of family; a group of individuals living under one roof, or do you want a group of individuals who spend time together and have great memories of that time?

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.