How to Survive the Holidays

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It's that time of year again. The holidays tend to do one thing... revolve around relationships. This post isn't for the picture perfect family who is able to come together without conflict. This post is for all of those out there who are triggered by the winter break and holiday season. Let's explore how to manage the holidays while attending to some interesting family dynamics. 

This is a time of year when many are apprehensive about spending family time. It's usually that one family member (or two) that really gets to you. It could be an in law, loss of a loved one, watching your adult children make decisions you don't agree with, or meeting your partners family for the first time.  For all of those who are single, this is also a time of year when you may not wish to hear the family comments, "when are you going to find someone? Did you hear that Jenny got engaged?" Lets not talk about things that all of instagram was already made aware of. Maybe you're feeling the pressure to balance your family dynamics because of divorce, or manage issues of infertility that are still a family secret and it just feels like too much pressure to smile and act like nothing is wrong.  It could also be stressful due to finances and the pressure of gift giving or an existing issue like anxiety or depression. Whatever the case maybe these extra holiday feelings tend to not be isolated. How can you get through this? If you're in a place where you know you're going to attend a gathering here are some tips for your consideration. 

 How to handle contentious family dynamics at a gathering: 

  1. If you have to set a table, place neutral family members by the most controversial family members. Consider having facilitated dinner conversation - like a round of thankfulness. 
  2. Know your limits and what potential triggers may be. Think in advance about how you want to handle the situation. Will you address it on the spot? Wait until after the gathering? Skip dessert? Know yourself and know your options!
  3. If you know there is a topic that should not be brought up, let people know in advance. For example, "please don't ask David about his job situation over the holidays, he will share with you when he is ready."
  4. If you are the host you have more control, think about how to plan activities and seating in ways that reduce conflict. 
  5. Create a code word with a trusted friend, family member, or your partner that signals you need someone near you, or you're ready to go. (tip, these should be two separate codes!)

Have a conflict with a family member? Here are some tips to manage: 

  1. Consider your conflict style, do you normally answer questions directly? Or do you like to avoid the direct conflict? What makes the most sense for the situation you're about to be in? Consider doing it differently if the situation calls for something that is not your typical style. 
  2. Claim your narrative. Maybe you decide you're going to use a sound bite on repeat with family members who may ask you  questions or bring up topics connected to the family conflict. 
  3. Consider a kind redirect. For example "thanks for asking,  tell me about you?" 
  4. Know your limits before you go to a gathering, try to keep it light and not discuss topics that will be unmanageable at dinner. 
  5. Have someone at the party that you can count on? Consider an agreement where you're able to text them about the situation. 

How to answer questions about a recent difficult change in your life (divorce, job loss, miscarriage, loss of a loved one etc). 

This is a little more tricky. For some us, talking about the difficult thing we are experiencing feels great! It's even welcomed to have someone care and a listening ear. For others the thought of having to share, or the audacity of someone to even ask puts on edge and creates discomfort. First thing you'll need to do is understand where you're at. From there make a game plan. If you're not wanting to discuss anything, you can choose the same response you may give to everyone to manage the situation. These examples are designed to not carry the conversation on if you believe that's what's best for you. Here are some examples: 

  1. "I'm focused on the future" (reframe)
  2. "I'm not interested in talking about this, I'm focused on enjoying this party" (deflect) 
  3. "Thanks for asking, please keep me in your thoughts/prayers" (Shift the responsibility back to the person who asked) 

Don't forget to find time to do something that brings you *joy*. Even if it's for 15 minutes, its very helpful to dose our moments of joy, rather than assuming a 2 week vacation will do it! Try to carve out some windows of 5, 10, or 15 minutes to focus on you. Recenter to your values and live life honoring them. Hang on to coping thoughts that you can easily access by putting them on a notecard, or in your phone. Here are some coping thoughts to get through the holiday and seasonal break: 

  1. Even though this feels overwhelming, it's not going to last forever 
  2. What (insert name) said was hurtful, and I'm going to accept that it hurt me, this hurt will not control me
  3. This is difficult
  4. I have gotten through worse and I will get through this
  5. I can't change this situation but I can focus on my breath 

Bring in the new year with sharper skills to handle your day to day life and bring in the new year in ways that honor yourself. 


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How to Find a Therapist That Works For Me

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Ring Ring.....

"Family and Couple Therapy Center, how can I help you?"
"I don't know. I'm looking for a therapist but I don't know what to ask you."
"No problem! Here is what you should ask me."

That's usually how it goes. I get countless calls from people who are brave and take the first step to reach out and make an appointment...but they don't always know what they need or how to find a good therapist. I put together a list of common questions you could ask a therapist. Remember, these are simply some considerations. 

What to look for in your relationship with your therapist?

You have to have trust, feel comfortable, be willing to say what you really think and challenge when you disagree. Don't be afraid to find the right therapist. You may have to try more than one counseling experience to learn what you are really looking for.  

How to search:

You can get referrals from friends, family, your primary-care physician, or by searching online. There are tons of great therapist locators out there specifically for finding a therapist that allow you to search by payment type, location, and speciality. Once you found a few therapists to call or email,  start thinking about what kinds of questions you have. 

Here is a sample of questions you can ask: 

  • How long have you been practicing? Have you worked in other capacities besides private practice? 
  • What type of license do you have? 
  • Can you tell me more about that license? 
  • You say that you do couple and family counseling, what type of training or specialization did you have? 
  • I identify as (insert) have you worked with this population before? 
  • How do you approach working with clients who hold different identities than your own? 
  • How long are sessions? What are your hours? 
  • What types of payment do you accept? 
  • How interactive are you as a therapist? Do you provide assignments? 
  • Have you worked with someone who has experienced (insert issue: affairs, eating disorders, cutting, depression, anxiety, parenting, etc.) 

How to taper your own exceptions:

  1. Your therapist is not your friend, they are your therapist. Healthy boundaries make for good therapy. 
  2. Do not expect a miracle after 60 min. 
  3. The work you do in between sessions is just as important as sessions themselves! 
  4. Your therapist will not give you the answers, you will explore together considerations for making decisions. 
  5. Therapy brings up emotions that you may not have realized were even there. Expect to have some feels, talk to your therapist about how to process and manage through them. 


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