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.


Reducing stress during the holidays

I am a firm believer in making life simpler.  Never is this harder to do than during the holiday season.  We get so wrapped up in all the action, excitement and hype.  After Halloween the stores have holiday decorations up.  Really?  Two months of being barraged?  Every holiday season seems to come sooner and go by faster.  While there are many stress management techniques, the best way to lower your stress is to change your view of the holidays.  What are your expectations for the holidays and specific celebrations?  Can you scale it down?  Who or what will make it more difficult?  Let’s think about it.

Create new expectations.  Think of one or two things you want the holidays to represent.  Now ask yourself some questions and see if the answers align with what you want the holidays to represent.  Are you hosting all celebrations?  Do you make cookies for everyone you know?  Do you buy gifts for every friend and their kids?  Do you have issues with a particular friend or family member every holiday season?  If what you have done in the past and expect to do this year don’t align with what you want the holidays to represent then things need to change and you have the power to change them.

How will you can scale it down?  What stresses you the most?  How can you make the changes you need in order to enjoy the holidays without the stress?  What traditions do you want to start or continue for your children?  What would never be missed?  Try and scale back everything you can, even something as small as reducing your holiday card mailing list.  Maybe you host less occasions, if you still host serve less food,  or ask people to bring dishes or dessert.  Also you can suggest secret Santas where appropriate.  And if you stress over relationships then focus on one positive thing or conversation you want to have with this person.

Who or what will make these changes difficult to implement? Think about what barriers you will encounter should you decide to change something or scale down?  How can you word your desires to those who really want things the way they have always been?  When talking to others about change be sure you tell them it is about you.  “The way we have been doing things stresses me”, “I need to do this for me”, “please help me do this”.  Create your own mantra and use it everyday when things get out of control.  For example; less is more, I can create calm in my life, this is my choice, I am in control of my life, etc.

Make a plan now!  Discuss it with your spouse or significant other.  Stick to it.  Check in with yourself daily.  If your stress level, on a scale of 0-10 (1-never, 5-somewhat, 10-often/very much) is an 8, 9 or 10, use that mantra!  Take care of yourself!!!!!!  Walk, stretch in your living room, meditate for 5 minutes a day or more to decrease stress.  If you continue to feel overwhelmed and cannot shake the anxiety or depression seek help from a professional.

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 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.