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Managing the Not-So-Happy Holidays

The holiday season is once again upon us, and along with the joys of food and festivities also comes the headaches and hurt feelings that can accompany spending time with certain family members. The connection between stress and physical health is not "new news" at this point- most people recognize that when our anxiety levels are too high or remain high for long durations of time, our bodies are punished. For some of us, this means we notice a cold or cough approaching. For those with chronic illness (to which I am no stranger), we begin to see the telltale signs of certain aches and pains or mental and emotional symptoms resurfacing that had recently been dormant.

Fall and winter months are also notorious for resulting in a potential seasonal pattern of depression for certain individuals (also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD). As the winter months approach and we lose daylight hours, for those individuals who suffer from SAD, symptoms such as low energy, lack of interest and motivation, feelings of sadness and guilt, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating tend to become more prevalent during this time of year. Add this to the expectations surrounding the time and energy your friends and family may be placing on you regarding holiday plans, and it's no surprise that many individuals struggle with this season of life.

If your relationships with certain family members are strained because of difficult histories or ongoing disputes, the holiday season can present even more of a challenge. I have found that families can easily become divided and uncertain about how to spend the holidays because one uncle isn't on speaking terms with another uncle, or one aunt refuses to be in the same room with her estranged sister over an argument that took place sometimes over a decade ago! The domino effect from these kinds of disputes is that the family members left holding the pieces and trying to accommodate all of these request are reminded of the very simple but very hard truth: you can't please everyone, and you will fail every time if you try to (Lighter side note: I love the shirts going around that remind us, "You can't make everyone happy, you are NOT a taco"- this is marketing genius at it's finest and helps to infuse humor into the difficulty of having attained this hard wisdom).

So, what do you do if uncle John won't come to Thanksgiving because uncle Paul refuses to apologize for an argument that happened before you were even born? First, take a deep, restorative breath like is encouraged in yoga- Next, remind yourself of an old Polish saying "Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy" . . . literally, "not my circus, not my monkeys". Remember that this is not your battle; these are two adult men (or women, if it's the example of the aunts who won't let go of old news) who are not acting like adults. Adults process their emotions, have adult conversations with one another, and either come to an understanding of one another's perspectives or learn how to accept that sometimes we do not agree on issues or see things the same way. If neither uncle can come to Thanksgiving, I promise you, the show will go on. This is not catastrophic- so don't let yourself or anyone else, make it out to be a catastrophe. You may find that things are actually more enjoyable with one less "child" at the table this holiday season.

And if you are behaving like the child in this particular situation, I would encourage you to take a long, hard internal inventory of what is truly important in your life. If the argument is important, or if the relationship is important. You are absolutely allowed to determine who is involved actively in your life, and who is only allowed to participate from the sidelines, even if the person is family. Someone should earn a place in your life, just as you should earn a place in theirs. And if another individual has shown you time and time again that they do not deserve to be present for your journey, maybe it is time you start listening.

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