Coping with Complex Family Drama Over the Holidays

Avoid Family Drama

As the holidays approach, you may worry about upcoming family gatherings, which can be challenging for some people. There are a few strategies you can use which can help minimize some of the difficulty.    

First, steer clear of conversation topics which are potentially controversial or likely to provoke tension.    Politics, religion, money, and old family drama are best left alone at family gatherings. You are unlikely to change any minds. If a family member tries to start a conversation on one of these topics, don’t engage. Provide a neutral non-response such as “OK, I see.”   It takes two people to argue; the other will likely lose interest if you don’t take the bait. If they don’t take the hint and persist in trying to argue, then you can excuse yourself and remove yourself from that situation. Head to the bathroom to grab some water or help in the kitchen.     

If you and another family member tend to repeat the same negative patterns at gatherings, actively avoid falling into this trap. You can go into the gathering with the intention of conflict avoidance. 

Acceptance can also be helpful

Family members who tend always to behave a certain way or say or do certain things are likely to continue to do that. You will not be able to change them or control their behaviour.  Practice tolerance where possible and accept family members for who they are. The only behaviour you can control is your reaction. If someone does or says something which gets under your skin, work on not holding onto resentments, which ultimately cause you more discomfort. Consciously tell yourself you will let it go. Where possible, try to see the humour in complex family interactions and laugh them off to yourself.    

Manage your expectations

People often pressure themselves to have a memorable, magical holiday experience. This can lead to feelings of disappointment and frustration. It’s OK if everything doesn’t go perfectly and you don’t enjoy every moment. Avoid comparing yourself to others and telling yourself everyone is having the perfect holiday.  Limit or stay off social media, which tends to fuel this comparison.   
If a very long gathering is too much for you, limit the time you plan to spend with family.   Where possible, turn down activities or invitations which feel too overwhelming.  

Avoid Overconsumption of Alcohol

Avoid overconsuming alcohol, which can contribute to more heated and unpleasant family interactions. People often tell themselves drinking will help them endure a complex gathering, but it generally makes things worse. 

During the holidays, it’s important to prioritize self-care, physical activity and spending time with positive people who make you feel good.   If family gatherings don’t include folks like that, make some plans before or after your family gathering to see these positive people.    If you don’t have enjoyable traditions with your family, create some with your friends or significant other or just for yourself

Practice Gratitude and Breathe……

Take note of several things to appreciate about the gathering, the holiday or your life in general, however small.  Perhaps you enjoy your morning coffee, a favourite holiday movie or the scent of pine trees.    If you are focused on gratitude, your brain has less space to focus on complex family interactions.  

Use a simple breathing or coping strategy in your back pocket as needed.   For example, try square breathing, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts and hold that for four counts.   Repeat four times.   Choose a simple mantra to say to yourself, such as “This too shall pass” or “I am calm.”    After the gathering, give yourself credit for all you did to get through the event.    

Navigating the fog of Depression

Are you tired of being miserable all the time? Do you want to overcome your depression and live a happier life finally? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that it’s not going to be easy. The good news is that it’s possible – if you’re willing to do the work. Here are some ways to get started on overcoming your depression.

Get out of bed and shower daily, even if you don’t feel like it.

Let’s be honest for a minute; getting out of bed and showering daily can feel almost impossible. Even if you know it’s good for your body, mind, and overall productivity, who wants to make the extra effort to start the day right? Our natural reaction is often to stay entrapped in the warmth and comfort of our cozy beds. But trust me – scraping yourself out of bed each day isn’t as daunting as it may seem. Once you start making small changes in your morning routine, like setting the alarm, getting dressed, and taking a shower, you’ll soon realize that your body and mind are craving that drastic change. So go ahead and take the risk — this might motivate you to get up early each day!

Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise.

Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly may sound like a chore, but it doesn’t have to be. Regular, consistent practice can lead to a healthier mental and physical lifestyle. And remember that a sense of accomplishment comes with every victory – big or small. Eating nutritious food and exercising regularly can become more than just steps to stay healthy – it could be part of your everyday life! So don’t think of it as dull or unenjoyable; think of it as an opportunity to show yourself some love.

Spend time with friends and family members who make you feel good about yourself.

Spending time with your loved ones can often be a breath of fresh air after navigating your hectic life, so choosing the right ones to spend more time with is essential. Remember, when choosing friends and family members, go for those who make you feel good about yourself. They should bring out the best in you, not the worst. Being surrounded by positivity should be high on your list of priorities – it often makes tasks seem easier and more manageable. It will likely propel you forward in all aspects of life!

Do something that makes you happy every day, even if it’s just reading a book or taking a walk.

We have all heard that every day should bring something to be thankful for, but what is the point if we don’t take the time to enjoy ourselves and do things that make us happy? We shouldn’t just settle for seeing the good side of a bad day – why not turn it into an opportunity to do something for ourselves? After all, even taking some time out of our day to sit down and read a book or go for a short walk can make all the difference in making us feel content. So let’s ditch the idea of merely surviving another 24 hours, and instead, let’s focus on doing something that makes us smile; our outlook on life will benefit from it!

Seek professional help if your depression is severe or doesn’t seem to be improving with self-care

Depression is an incredibly draining feeling to experience, and if it isn’t improving with self-care, then that’s a sign that you need even more help than you can give yourself. Seeking professional help may seem daunting and silly since you know yourself better than anyone else. But the feelings associated with depression are real, and so is the fact that they can be eased through specialized help. Whether talking to a therapist or physician and exploring different medication options, don’t be afraid to get the assistance you deserve. Life is too short to be weighed down by depression; let a professional help lighten the load emotionally so you can take back your life and finally break away from its grasp!

Don’t let depression win. Get out of bed, shower, eat healthy, and exercise regularly. Spend time with friends and family members who make you feel good about yourself. Do something that makes you happy every day, even if it’s just reading a book or taking a walk. Seek professional help if your depression is severe or doesn’t seem to improve with self-care.

Couples Therapy – The Gottman Method

‘Got’ The Gottman Method?

Being in a romantic relationship of any kind can be an exciting, fruitful, fulfilling and even euphoric adventure that many people experience and can benefit from. Like any relationship, however, it does not come without its challenges and rough patches. Sometimes, even in relationships without obvious struggles, you need a little bit of help! And there is no shame in reaching out for guidance, whether for strain and concern in the relationship or for ways to maintain one’s already healthy one (since there is always something we can improve and work on!).

First off, What is the Gottman Method?

The Gottman Method is an intervention-based approach grounded on the Sound Relationship House Theory. This metaphorical ‘house’ comprises a healthy relationship’s nine most significant and essential components. Each part relies on the other, and the success of each depends on the previous one (almost like stepping stones across a stream). The main goals of the Gottman Method are to improve communication skills, increase levels of partner intimacy and respect, find a technique to resolve conflict that works for the couple and maintain a caring and tender relationship. There are three main components of the Gottman Method: friendship, conflict management, and the creation of shared goals. The method allows couples to learn how to better their interactions, deepen their emotional connections, and teach healthy habits that result in relationship longevity and quality.

The Sound House Theory:

Imagine a typical house with walls, a foundation, and floors. With specific components, the house will be able to stand. Its structure has walls intertwined with trust and commitment to stabilize said ‘house.’ Healthy components of a relationship make up the floors.

The first floor is building love maps: here, couples get to know each other on a deeper and more emotional level, specifically within their internal and personal thoughts. The next floor is shared fondness and admiration: this is where couples openly express their gratitude and respect for each other. Then, is turning towards, not away: this requires both partners to become aware of each other’s needs and be able to give and take (evenly and within reason). Next is the positive perspective: partners put each other in a positive light on this floor, not regard their imperfections as bad or character flaws.

Following is conflict management: using a 3-step process, couples (1) consider each other’s feelings, (2) learn to discuss the issue at hand openly, and (3) when one or both parties begin to feel overwhelmed, they investigate in techniques that work for them and successfully lower stress levels during these times. Reaching one of the final floors is making each other’s dreams come true: this floor is heavily influenced by supporting and being in each other’s corner to achieve their dreams. Next is creating shared meaning: this is the final floor of the Sound House.

It is very similar to the first floor in terms of delving into and understanding each other’s deep and personal thoughts, but here, it focuses on how sharing their internal thoughts has created shared meaning. Finally, the house’s walls are made up of commitment and trust: without the borders, couples would not be able to explore the other floors of the house. Trust allows for mutual reliability and a sense of teamwork. Commitment provides for stability, stickability and overall improvement of the relationship.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Despite the title, these traits do not cause the end of the world or the implosion of the earth. However, it describes how they can be problematic and bring tension into a relationship, potentially causing an ‘apocalypse.’ The first horseman is criticism: this can include nit-picking the partner’s flaws, calling out disappointments in the relationship or with one another, correcting one partner and making negative comments about one’s friends and family.

While expressing a complaint or concern can sometimes be necessary, avoiding it sounding like an attack (perhaps using ‘I’ statements to mitigate misunderstanding) is crucial. Next is defensiveness: this occurs when one (or both) partner sees a response as being an attack, so they ricochet back with another; one may also tend to put the blame elsewhere – to avoid this, it is essential to be aware of one’s actions and be able to take accountability. Then there is contempt: this typically entails dismissive and sarcastic commentary and body language. Sometimes, it can stem from unaddressed negative feelings, fueling the fire. Utilizing emotional regulations, awareness of self and resolving minor conflicts before they erupt can effectively elude contempt. 

Lastly is stonewalling: a partner completely shuts off verbally or emotionally due to physiological flooding. At the same time, effective communication is unlikely in this state, so pumping the breaks and making a U-turn back to the conversation later is the best option.

The Takeaway:

Overall, Gottman’s Method aims to help couples see ‘eye to eye’ and become closer and more invested emotionally. This method also serves as something that can (and should) be practised both inside and outside the therapist’s office. While it can help with resolvable conflicts, it significantly helps perpetual conflicts; it can answer the question of ‘how do we handle this’ to eliminate or minimize the feeling of hopefully ‘can I do this?’. If you haven’t ‘got’ the Gottman method yet and would like to, it is doable with support, an open mind, and some practice!

The Pangs of Rejection and Overcoming the Inevitable

Applying for a new job. Swiping right on a potential match. Putting in an offer on a new home. Reaching out to a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Proposing to your significant other.

These scenarios put you in a vulnerable position with generally one of two outcomes. You’ll either get the response you want, or you’ll be met with rejection. Many of us fear the latter outcome the most, as there is nothing about being rejected that feels good. We have a natural, emotional reaction to being rejected, which can complicate things because rejection is inevitable whether we like it or not. It’s a part of life, something we can experience when we begin to feel and understand our emotions.

Since you have to live with it and can never tell when it will hit, it may be worth understanding the concept of rejection, your body’s reaction to it, and how you can use that pain to your benefit. Chances are you can recognize when you’ve been rejected, but do you understand what happens after it sets in or why you feel how you feel after being rejected?

The Pain of Rejection

The concept of rejection sounds pretty straightforward. After you’ve been rebuffed, your body undergoes an emotional response that causes you to feel a perceived pain. That pain, mainly driven by social rejection, can lead to increased anger, depression, sadness, and anxiety. However, you may not realize that the pain associated with rejection is not dissimilar to the physical pain you may experience with a broken finger. Your brain will react similarly, releasing cortisol and adrenaline and shifting your blood flow. This physical reaction causes symptoms like body aches and decreased appetite.

The reason our body reacts this way is mainly because of how much we rely on social acceptance. But there is a bit more to it, especially when you think of how much people, in general, value the opinions of others and use them as a means of validation.

Craving Acceptance and Overcoming Rejection

Just like our bodies crave food and water and will react negatively if neither is provided, our minds crave social interaction and acceptance. Without them, we undergo physical and psychological changes.

What’s important is that you don’t allow that rejection to cause you to spiral. You don’t have to sit with the pangs of guilt, sorrow, and regret that can come with rejection. There are a few things you can do to both use rejection to better yourself and minimize its effects.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Regardless of where the rejection came from, you’re feeling it, and it’s real. Don’t try to bury the way you think. Instead, acknowledge your feelings and validate them. Talk about them with confidence and deal with the issue head-on.

Find the Opportunity to Grow and Learn

Take this experience and learn from it. Reflect on what may have happened and determine what you may be able to change for the future. For example, if you didn’t get a job you applied for, review your resume and see how you can change it. If you were rejected by a date, take a long look at the type of partner you’ve been pursuing and determine if you should change.

Put the Rejection Into Perspective

One rejection does not guarantee another. Remember that just because one thing didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean another won’t as well. Also, consider why you were rejected. It’s possible it wasn’t an issue with you but an uncontrollable external factor.

Practice Self-Love

If we feel good about ourselves and have high self-esteem, rejection won’t hurt as bad. Even when things go awry, talk yourself up rather than assign self-blame. Rejection doesn’t define you, but how you feel about yourself can.

An Inevitable Part of Life

Knowing that rejection is a part of life doesn’t make it easier to handle, but it does allow you to prepare yourself for when rejection may be a possibility. It would be best if you didn’t let rejection set you back. Instead, learn from what’s happened, put everything into perspective, and continue showing yourself self-love. You may mitigate the effects of rejection when you do experience rejection.

Happy Thanksgiving: A Reminder to Practice Gratitude

Wouldn’t you agree this has been one of the worst years yet? The isolation created by the COVID pandemic, and everything surrounding it? Depending on who you talk to the answer to this question varies. Some become engulfed in the negativity of their surroundings, spiraling into a toxic cycle of thought. While others who practice gratitude may tell you something different.

We all have unique experiences, among the shared one that is the pandemic. I am sure we are all familiar with our own personal struggles brought on or worsened by it. Many clients I have talked to have highlighted the isolation caused by the pandemic, with the majority focusing on the negative effects of it. However, some have recognized the opportunity for self-improvement and reflection that has been provided by this isolation.

Are you the same person as you were before COVID? What changes have you noticed? Instead of going to the negative (as our minds often do), try to put a name on the positive changes you have noticed in yourself: have you become stronger? More resilient? This type of thinking is characterized as challenging negative thought processes.

How we perceive things is our reality, which is why challenging these negative thought processes and practicing gratitude is critical to our well-being and happiness. When I notice myself spiraling into negative thought processes, I consciously make the decision to stop myself and list a few things that I am grateful for (however big or small). It can be difficult at first to recognize negative and unproductive trains of thought, but the more this is done the easier it becomes.

Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude:

  1. Watch inspiring videos that will remind you of the good in the world.
  2. Call your loved ones more often
  3. Add to your gratitude list daily.
  4. Challenge your inner critic.
  5. See the opportunities for growth and development in your mistakes.

Finally, do not forget to be grateful for yourself! For all your capabilities, your passions, and even your quirks. Reflect on all that you have accomplished in your life, and those who have supported you along the way.

Wishing you all the best in your Wellness journey.

Post COVID-19

What Will The New Normal Look Like?

It seems like a lifetime ago when we could freely roam about our communities without worries of catching a deadly virus. Life is certainly more unpredictable these days with the COVID-19 pandemic running its course. It used to be that we’d wake up and know fairly well how our day was going to go. We had the security of a job, a fairly good assurance of coming home without any type of virus, and a routine that helped us feel stable.

However, since COVID-19, we’re living in a world where fear and panic have risen to the surface, with many people struggling to cope each day.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), fear and panic are defined as intensified or excessive fear launched by something specific. Panic is defined as intense or paralyzing fear that tends to come on suddenly.

Life as normal changed when our everyday lives were hit with COVID-19. No longer could we wake up and use our freedom to engage in work or our communities as we pleased. No longer could we face each day with a certainty that we and our loved ones would be alright. The underlying emotion in most homes has become fear and panic.

Effects On Mental Health Workers

As a psychotherapist working in a hospital, I’ve witnessed the direct effects COVID-19 has had on health care workers. A co-worker shared with me how challenging it’s been for her to watch patients suffer alone. In one instance, she had a patient quarantined with the virus. His family was not allowed in the room to see him, so she moved his bed by the window so he could see them as he talked to them on the phone.
The grief and fear healthcare workers are carrying can become quite heavy at times. They are courageously stepping it up to care for those that fall ill, all-the-while trying to practice self-care.

COVID-19 And Generalized Anxiety

When someone experiences persistent, intense worry, it’s diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It could very well be that most of the world is experiencing these symptoms directly due to the pandemic.
Anxiety, fear, and panic have set the stage for communities to begin living life in a different, self-distancing, isolated way. All of us have had to change our routines and make life adjustments that we hope will keep ourselves and our families safe.

To date, statistics report that almost four million people have COVID-19 around the world. Over 265,000 have died. The tragedy of loss behind the numbers is huge. The grief that cries out around the globe monstrous. All the while, most people continue to struggle with the same questions.

  • When will this be over?
  • Will I be alright? Will my family be alright?
  • What if I get sick?
  • Will I get my job back?
  • How am I going to recover from this?
  • What will life be like after the pandemic?

Moving forward, it will be important that all of us try to cultivate a new sense of normal. A sense of stability post COVID-19.   

Preparing For Life After The Virus

Most people want to get back to work and a sense of normalcy. They’re eager to get back to a routine with some stability. Routines help us feel stable and help bring a calming to our emotions. For children, parents can help them prepare for going back to school or being at home without parents when they return to work by keeping routine and structure in place at home during the pandemic. Children tend to thrive better when there are schedules and consistency. 

For adults, practicing self-care is essential. With the excess free time we’re experiencing, be sure to fill that time with things that nurture yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Take time to exercise. Do things that you enjoy. It’s easy to let boredom in the cracks, so consciously take on each day as it comes, engaging in meaningful tasks for yourself and with your loved ones. 

Hope For Life Post COVID-19

There will be a day when the pandemic is over. Keep that in mind. People will return to work. Children will return to school or daycare. The economy will startup again. Offer gratitude for what will be once again in the near future, as well as for all the good in your life right now. Enjoy the simple things right under your nose. 

In the grand scheme of things, it is an opportune time to evaluate our values and priorities. We have some time to reflect on what’s most important to us, as well as learn valuable lessons along the way regarding health, relationships with loved ones, community, and life in general.