Monday, November 7, 2011

Mentally Healthy Holidays

The holidays have quickly come upon us and we are now making plans and preparations to make sure our holiday events are successful and memorable. My husband, being a therapist, offered some free pre-holiday therapy to help with managing the fun and stress of this season.

Everybody knows that the holidays can be a fun, tender, beautiful time mingled with some pain, frustration, and conflict. Many have come to associate some pretty negative things with the time of year that is quickly approaching. Having had a recent experience bring this poignantly to my attention, I thought I might share a few ideas that can help those of us that have less than Martha Stewart holiday seasons each and every year.


There's little that dispels gloom faster, anticipates good things more genuinely, and colors otherwise dull or difficult experiences brighter than good humor. Here's a small list of some of my favorite holiday/crazy family films to help anticipate the proper frame of mind for the festivities. You should watch one or two of these (or your own favorites) very soon if the holidays are a stressful time for you. Quoting some of the memorable scenes from this to a trusted friend or spouse during a holiday party as an inside joke can work miracles!

Groundhog Day - Just imagine Bill Murray laughing like a nut, hastily throwing snowballs, and say with him "I love kids!" (when they are all driving you crazy); or when your annoying half-step-uncle-cousin-in-law shows up to the party, think of "Don't tell me you don't recognize me. It's me! Ned! Ned Ryarson!?" then look at your spouse and say, "Bing!"

A Christmas Story - This is a great one for those presents given by that person that really sucks at giving presents. "Wow... Frageeelay. Must be Italian."

My Big Fat Greek Wedding - This is a great stop gap for just about anything. Just grab a bottle of Windex and warmly offer a spritz to anyone that might need some. The more you think they need it, the more you give them... ;-)

Napoleon Dynamite (of course) - This has so many classics, I don't have room enough to deliver. When the guy that's always bragging starts in, you can think of Rex saying, "I don't dress like Peter Pan here. You think anyone wants a roundhouse to the face while I'm wearing these bad boys?" then just say to your spouse (in your best Rex voice) "For-get-a-bout-it..." or do the "carry the luggage" arm flex.

What About Bob - This is another rich one. Add "fingernail sensitivity" to the list your whining relative is reciting; or when someone brings up some kind of conflict you don't want to talk about, deflect it by explaining to them that "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't."

Any episode of Frasier or Monk - The hand washing thing works great right now. People hardly even notice. Just smile and offer your spouse a "wipe" or some hand gel when someone says something stupid or after you leave that relatives house that makes you feel like you need a shower.

Of course, not everyone has experiences like these and most of you reading this are probably very well adjusted people who have wonderful, supportive, loving families that are eccentricity-free and you probably just love all of them unconditionally. But, just in case there are others out there like me...


One of the good things about holidays is consistency. Make sure that you focus your planning and attention on the good things that have provided whatever amount of consistency has existed over the years for you and your spouse's families. Integrate more of them into your own habits for the holidays to pass them along to your own children. Enjoying the good parts about the family helps take some of the sting out of some of the less than desirable parts. Having said that, don't be afraid to shake things up either. Simply because all "the girls" usually scrapbook or shop while "the boys" watch football doesn't make them important traditions. Decide what would be fun, invite whoever wants to join in, and do whatever you want. Making your own plans (even if they incorporate others' plans) for the holidays gives you the power of choice and lets you go along with whatever happens without feeling helpless to it.

Petting the Porcupine

Most people have that one person (at least) that just can't seem to be nice even when everyone else is. One of the things that can help cope (short term) with this kind of interaction is to clarify in your own mind who is responsible for what. You are not, for example, responsible to make this person happy. You should, however, treat this person with kindness or common respect. It can be tempting to treat this person how you feel they deserve to be treated (poorly). Maybe you could think of them as a stranger. What would you do for someone who didn't have any family, was far from home on the holidays, and came to you to spend some time with your family so that they were not alone? Could you not do the same for the porcupine and let the porcupine decide for itself what type of feelings to have? Another thing that can bring a little humor to a situation like this is to make a list of the undesirable things the person is most likely to say or do during your time with them and play a private game of porcupine bingo with your spouse. That way, instead of dreading it, you can almost hope for the next bad thing on the list and celebrate when you get a few in a row! "Yessss..." Raising your arms high into the air and shouting BINGO! as you walk toward the bathroom for a mental health break is a great way to let off a little steam too.


Finally, serving others is a great way to help the holidays be something more than self-satisfaction (or an obvious lack thereof). There are few things that invite the Spirit of God into our hearts and lives faster than doing something kind for someone else, particularly doing something for others that they cannot do for themselves. There are so many ways to do this, but here is one website that can help you find an activity for you or your family to do that would bless the life of "one of the least of these, my brethren." We know that when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God. Expressing gratitude to God by reaching out with kindness to his sons and daughters here on earth allows us to feel a greater measure of his mercy and love for all of us.

If all else fails, make some cookies...

Gingerbread Cookies

3 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 T. ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
12 T. butter, softened
3/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 T. milk

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda. Add butter, molasses, egg, and milk. Mix well to form a dough. Refrigerate dough until firm.

Divide dough into two. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Cut cookies out of dough. Knead remainder of dough into a ball, roll out, and cut cookies again. Repeat until all the dough is used.

Place cookies on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 11 minutes. Cool cookies on the baking for about 2 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks.

Happy Holidays!


Amanda said...

These made me smile! I love the Bingo idea! hahahaaaaa!

Saturday-- RACE DAY! Can't wait...
and i can't wait to make these gingerbread cookies! YUM!

Linda said...

I am excited to see you!