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Family Matters

De-Stressing Your Holiday Season

October 31st, 2013

By: Carolyn Daitch, Ph. D.

The winter holidays are a time of enjoyment and relaxation… right? It’s a time when the kids are home from school, a fireplace crackles in the hearth, and savory smells waft from the kitchen. As you sit watching the kids sip on hot chocolate you get to sit back and reflect, with gratitude, how wonderful it is to have the family you’ve created… if only the dishes didn’t need to be washed, and the presents done perfectly. And then there’s that long-standing tension between your mother-in-law and your sister that’s likely to bring about some uncomfortable moments during holiday season family visits.

For so many of us, a stress-free holiday season is one gift that just never seems to materialize. But this year, as the holidays fast approach, there are many tools and tricks that can allow you to enjoy all the gifts the holiday season has in store—without getting stuck in the stress of the season.

The first thing to tackle is perfectionism. I frequently say that perfection is the enemy of the good. All too often anxiety arises around the thought that we have to make things perfect: the dinner for the extended family has to be exquisite, the house glisteningly clean, the presents you give need to be the perfect expression of your care. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of recognizing that a good, well-meaning effort can be good enough. You don’t have to strive for perfection. Rather, honor yourself for your effort, and allow and even welcome the imperfections.

Once we relax our expectation of perfection, it’s also easier to allow others to step in and lend a hand. Many of us are familiar with the sentiment: if you want a job done right, you’d better do it yourself. In keeping with that thought, delegating tasks can bring up stress and worry as you’re putting the results of a task in another’s hands. But when we embrace the idea that a well-meaning effort can be good enough, anxiety can soften. Again, you can gain satisfaction from another’s willingness to step up and put forth an effort, and welcome the inevitable imperfections that come along with this.

When you are doing tasks or chores, give yourself the gift of doing them mindfully. This means staying in the moment as you engage in an activity, really focusing on what you’re doing and allowing yourself to be present in the here and now. It’s so easy to have constant chatter broadcasting in the back of your mind, streaming a litany of things to do: worries about what still has to get done; worries about your execution of the task at hand; worries about what might go wrong. When this internal chatter inevitably pops up, envision yourself pressing the "mute" button and re-focus your attention on fully engaging in your current task: concentrating on the movements your hands are making, the way the carpet feels under your feet, or how it feels to lean back into the chair. In this way, vacuuming the living room or rapping presents can become a type of active meditation. Engaging in chores can add to your sense of wellbeing rather than detracting from it.

Still worried about that tension between your mother-in-law and your sister? Inviting close family friends to come share in the extended family’s get-together is a great way to diffuse tension that might otherwise arise if guests weren’t present. Or what about that co-worker who isn’t making it home to visit family this holiday season and would otherwise be spending the holidays alone? Inviting others to share in your family celebration can be a gift to all involved.

Finally, take time for yourself to relax. Often going on holiday "vacation" means attending to a long list of household chores and holiday-related tasks. Make sure you take time for yourself—for a hot bath, a chapter of a good book. Make sure you sit down to watch that movie with the kids rather than snatching the down-time to clean the kitchen. And especially when you’re stressed, pause to take some deep breaths, relaxing more and more with each slow exhalation. Relax into the holidays this season!


Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D has been a psychologist in private practice for 30 years. She is the director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Farmington Hills. For more information, visit"

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