Surviving the Holidays

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Well, it’s that time of year…the holidays are approaching which means spending time with family. Being a mental health professional and coming from a family of dysfunction, my heart and thoughts often go out to those from families with dysfunction, drama, and trauma. Unlike the old movies, for many, the holidays are a time of dread, frustration, sadness, and tears. If this is you, I hope that the following blog will help make your holidays more tolerable this year.

One of the most helpful things that I have learned is realizing that I have no control over people, places, or things. The only person that I have control over is myself and how I react to things. Examine what you do have control over during the holidays (http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/home-for-the-holdays-stress-tips?page=3). For me, I make a plan for when I am going to spend time with my family. First, I alleviate as much stress as possible ahead of time. I practice deep breathing and think of ways I can de-stress if needed. For example, making an excuse to get out and go somewhere, like the grocery store. I take this opportunity to take a drive and distract myself. I have a friend that I text and she provides support and humor.

Before the gathering, identify what triggers you. What are some coping skills you can practice to reduce anger, hurt, and other strong emotions (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-zen/201411/holiday-stress-dealing-family-drama-and-dysfunction).

I’m not sure where I would be without humor. Laughter is an excellent stress buster (https://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday).

Create and set clear boundaries. An article on Oprah.com, suggests setting a time limit for how long you can tolerate spending time with various family members. You could have a friend call you at a certain time to provide you with an easy exit when you have reached your limit. Another suggestion is to have a car (your own or a rental, if needed) so you aren’t dependent on a family member for transportation, in case you need to get away and take a break (http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Dealing-with-a-Dysfunctional-Family-During-the-Holidays).

I hope this blog is helpful. Feel free to share your own ways of coping with the holidays. Have a safe Thanksgiving!

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Being Grateful…

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I express my thankfulness everyday for what I have in my life. It is not something that I only do once a year, such as for Thanksgiving. It is one of the tools in my toolbox of coping skills. I have found, that when I was most depressed and discouraged, finding at least three things I was thankful for, was somewhat encouraging for me. When we are busy, stressed, depressed, or distracted, it is easy to forget the positives (the simple things) that we have. As a therapeutic assignment, my therapist has requested that I blog about what I am grateful for. I will first blog about practicing gratitude and its benefits, then I will finish with my own expression of gratefulness.

The practicing of expressing gratitude makes us happier (http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/). According to an article on Happify.com, it has been found that indivduals who express gratitude on a regular basis sleep better, have better immune systems, and experience more positive emotions (http://www.happify.com/hd/the-science-behind-gratitude/). The article also points out several ways to journal about what you are grateful for. Another online article on how to express gratitude regularly is http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-start-a-gratitude-practice-to-change-your-life/.

When I was my  most depressed, my illness overshadowed what I did have in my life. I found that journaling (sometimes just a simple list of one or two things daily) about what I was grateful for was like a small light shining through the darkness of my mind. Sometimes, it made me smile to think of what I did have. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about invalidating your sadness by saying you should be happy for what you have. All I am saying is that when I was able to think of just a few things that I was thankful for, it did cause a small uplift in my negative mood. I needed something positive to focus on and what I was grateful for helped me find some positive in my life, even if it was as simple as eating my favorite candy that day and thinking about how good it tasted.

So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful for waking up and having another day of life to enjoy my husband, family and loved ones. I am grateful for stability in my mental health, something that I never thought would happen to me. I am happy that I am able to work and make some money for my family, even if it is only part-time at the moment. I am so thankful for my husband, who loves me unconditionally, despite my flaws, and my little fur baby, Dixie, who is a bright light in my life.

On a simple note, I am thankful for coffee each morning. I am thankful for my dearest friends, who I love like my own sisters.

There are so many things I am thankful for. What are you thankful for? Do you practice gratefulness regularly? If so, share some of the ways you do this.