The first advice that therapist Tom Beechel gives those who have a history of unhappy holidays is easier said than done: Have realistic expectations.
“If every other Christmas has been a bummer, why should this be that one glorious Christmas you’ve been waiting for?” he asks.
Beechel, a senior staff member at the the Adult Childrens Center in Orange who leads workshops on holiday survival, also suggested the following ways to make holiday family gatherings less stressful:
* Try to anticipate and avoid the situations that are sure to upset you.
* Avoid heavy confrontations. “This is not the time to try to fix your family.”
* If you start to feel pressured, take time out for a walk or a nap or volunteer to do some errands.
* If you’re visiting relatives with whom your relationship is strained, limit your stay to three days.
* Don’t get trapped in old arguments. Change the subject or walk away. You’ll just be drawn into the argument if you try to defend yourself.
Beechel also says it’s OK to tell your family you can’t make it this year if you would rather not go home for Christmas. But try to start some holiday rituals of your own with friends so you won’t be alone.
“Expect to have pain,” he says, “and be pleasantly surprised if it’s not as bad as you thought it would be.”