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Don’t Crumble Under the Weight of Family Stress During the Holidays

What's on your to-do list this Christmas? While the movies portray fun and meaningful family holiday gatherings, the reality for many is often hectic and stressful. Photo credit: Jason Meredith/Flickr.

What’s on your to-do list this Christmas? While the movies portray fun and meaningful family holiday gatherings, the reality for many is often hectic and stressful. Photo credit: Jason Meredith/Flickr.

While the holidays are a happy time for many, the stress associated with family obligations and dynamics can be the “lump of coal” in some people’s Christmas stockings. According to the American Psychological Association, fatigue and stress are the top sources of negative feelings during this time of year. Sometimes, said clinical social worker and psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz, the best thing to do is simply not take part in potentially stressful situations. “Sometimes,” she said, “you have to give yourself permission to avoid family interactions that you know are going to be too painful or that will set you up to be ‘triggered’ in some way.” If you do feel compelled to see family or friends who can be a source of conflict, Ferentz said, limit time you spend, bring a friend to act as a buffer and use your cell phone as an excuse for a break. Sometimes, the best relief is to break away from habits, from the past, she said, by beginning a new tradition or doing something for others. “I encourage people to volunteer during this time of year,” Ferentz said. “I think when you do things that kind of help you step outside of yourself and your own emotional upset. It gives you perspective about life. It also helps you to kind of reclaim a feeling of gratitude.” Ferentz said it’s also important to avoid self-destructive behaviors such as overeating or drinking too much – and replace them with exercise or meditation. Tips from the American Psychological Association are online at apa.org.