To survive the holiday season, remember the little steps

The holidays are upon us. And with them come eggnog, mistletoe and spending more time with family than normal.

For many of us, extended family time is a mixed blessing. As much as you enjoy and look forward to seeing your family, they might drive you crazy! Here are some suggestions for surviving the holiday season with family members:

• Plan ahead. Don’t leave all of the shopping and food preparation until the last minute. Eliminate unnecessary stress by planning ahead rather than running around frantically at the last minute. Draw up a complete menu of what you are providing, the ingredients you need and purchase them a few days before.

• Avoid the crowds. Shop early in the day. Purchase groceries in the morning and shop for gifts during the week in the dinner hour.

• Keep your cool. By all means, don’t lose your temper when dealing with family members. Take a deep breathe and count to 10 before talking to loved ones, so that you are not responding in anger during an already overly emotional time of year.

• Less is more. Keep the visit short if you plan to stay with family in their home. A good rule of thumb is no more than three days. On the other hand, if the thought of staying with family is unbearable for whatever reason (your uncle smokes, the hide-a-bed is lumpy or your spouse is allergic to pets), consider the option of a motel, hotel or bed and breakfast. You might as well enjoy relaxing in the hot tub or pool at the hotel.

• Do not compete. Avoid playing games that bring out the worst in you or your family members. Play games that encourage cooperation. For example, competitive games would include Monopoly and Risk, whereas cooperative games and activities would include puzzle making and team games such as Pictionary.

• Be kind. Try not to make negative statements or derogatory comments. Even if a family member is insensitive and makes inflammatory comments, be kind. Rise above and transcend the negativity with positivism and happiness.

• Drink responsibly. Overindulging in alcoholic beverages as a coping mechanism may seem to reduce stress in the short term but will invariably increase tension and holiday stress. Be aware of the potential temptation, demonstrate control during the holiday festivities, and by all means don’t drink and drive.

• Eat and exercise. Rather than avoid your favorite holiday flavors this season, partake, but eat in moderation. Plan to increase your regular exercise regiment rather than skip the gym for lack of time. Insert some extra workout time into your daily schedule in order to offset the extra calories you will be consuming.

Contribute to a charity. Don’t get caught up in the materialistic orgy of the holidays. Instead, remember to do something generous for those who may have to go without. While shopping, pick up an extra item for the Toys for Tots campaign, or make a donation to your favorite charity. You will be glad you did.

In conclusion, there are many steps you can take toward reducing the stress you normally face with your family members. But, try not to let these numerous steps overwhelm you. Take a few of these suggestions to heart and see what type of progress you can make.

Try not to do too much, remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that little steps are better than no steps at all.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a private practice psychotherapist in individual, couples and family counseling. She can be reached at 653-0168 and Psychotherapy Associates, Parklane Executive Center, 31620 23rd Ave. S., Suite 318, Federal Way, WA 98003.

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