Holidays

LoveTip: How Starting New Holiday Traditions Can Add Shared Meaning to Your Relationship

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Since I was a small child, my favorite time of year has always been the time in between the week after Halloween and the week after New Years. My family has countless traditions, ranging from Thanksgiving Day meals to Advent Calendars, tree decorating, donating to those in need, and we even have step by step rituals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These traditions have led me and my brothers to always feel connected to family, even when we live hundreds of miles apart. Each of us, in our own unique ways, have continued these rituals with our own families and have begun building even deeper connections with our spouses around this time of year.

Outside of my family, depending on who you ask, the holidays can be described with a smile, as “amazing,” or with a shudder, as “stressful.” Those in the first group will likely tell you all about the music, distant family, shopping, and ambience that contributes to their positive outlook on the season. Those in the latter will often cite expenses, traffic, repetitive tunes, and family drama as contributing factors to their “bah humbug” attitude. While traffic patterns and the music selections blaring at every department store, likely won’t change in the near future, I want to invite you to view the holidays as an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to build shared meaning and intimacy with your significant other. The best part is, this opportunity does not have to cost a fortune, and most of these tips can be done in very little time with an impact that lasts long after the holiday season.

Before we identify ways to increase intimacy and shared meaning, let’s further discuss the idea of “shared meaning.” Drs. John and Julie Gottman have created an entire theoretical approach to couples and marriage counseling, with one of the ultimate goals being that couples have shared meaning in life. This shared meaning is the deeper connection that binds you and your spouse, and is created through rituals, traditions, goals, dreams, and appreciation for one another. Couples who have shared meaning tend to be “masters of their relationship”, and feel stable and loved by their partner.

So how do you achieve shared meaning? The Gottmans designed the Sound Relationship House, complete with 7 levels that culminate in Shared Meaning. Along with the levels, there are skills and understandings gained at each step that help propel your relationship towards greater satisfaction and shared meaning. Today, I want to focus on “creating rituals of connection,” which is one way to increase your shared meaning. The holidays provide a unique environment to incorporate and create new traditions and rituals that will fuel and connect your relationship for years to come.  

Begin by sitting down with your partner and talking about any current rituals you may already have in place (ie: birthday celebrations, daily greeting/departing affection, weekly dinners, etc.). Now examine the rituals and traditions that you have surrounding the holiday season. Which rituals have ties back to one or both of your childhoods? What were your favorite childhood traditions? Least favorite? What memories do these traditions evoke? How would you change these rituals to fit your current lifestyle? What meaning/symbolization do both past and current rituals have for you? How can you and your spouse continue to expand the traditions and rituals that you share? Consider the list below, as well as brainstorming together, to come up with new and exciting ways to celebrate the holidays, year after year, and to feel closer and more connected to your spouse, throughout the year!

Example Rituals:

  1. Plan a holiday meal or party together - Even if you spend the actual holidays away from home, plan a special dinner to enjoy at your house, with both you and your significant other contributing to the menu and preparation.

  2. Decorate your home in fall and/or winter/holiday décor together - Bonus points if you make the decorations, adding to your collection each year!

  3. Take Holiday Pictures- This one serves a few different purposes. Not only is this a great opportunity to create a ritual of getting dressed up or dressing in a theme with your spouse, but it will also give you the chance to look back at these photos in future years! With selfie-sticks, camera stands, filters and timed/remote photo apps, taking pictures at home has never been easier. And now there is no excuse not to include yourself in the pictures!

  4. Pull out your photo albums and reminisce on past holidays.

  5. Kiss under the mistletoe when you leave and return from work - This adds a holiday twist to a ritual you may already be doing (sending off and greeting your partner, when you leave and return home each day).

  6. Watch holiday movies together, or make a list of movies you haven’t had an opportunity to see this year, and use the extra time off from work to catch up together.

  7. Make cookies or gingerbread houses. Hate baking? Grocery stores now have pre-made ginger bread houses and sugar cookies with icing and candies included so you can save time on baking and focus more on decorating!

  8. Shop for extended family gift(s) together. Shopping often becomes a solo job, but when looking for gifts for hard-to-shop-for extended family, two heads can be better than one. Plus standing in long lines doesn’t seem so bad if you have company!

  9. Visit a Christmas tree farm - If a live tree that sheds in your living room doesn’t have you jumping with holiday spirit, lots of tree farms have other activities to enjoy (such as photo ops, petting zoos, corns mazes, festive gift shops, and delicious treats)!

  10. Sing Holiday Karaoke. Afterwards, every time you hear “Santa Baby” you will be inclined to laugh at the thought of your significant other belting it out in your living room or at the bar around the corner!

  11. Take a drive and listen to holiday music. Maybe singing isn’t your thing, but a scenic drive with spirited music can engrain the feeling of togetherness and bring back those feelings each time you hear those songs.

  12. Take a walk around your neighborhood after dark to look at the lights.

  13. Call family and friends together - Instead of you and your spouse calling or talking individually, facetime/skype/speaker phone friends and family to have group chat!

  14. Play in the snow or in the grass, depending on your local weather (snow: ski, snowboard, sled, snow ball fight; grass: bocci ball, horseshoes, washers, toss a ball or frisbee, etc.) ** The Gottmans describe play as, “dreaming while you are awake” and believe it to be a vital part of healthy relationships.

  15. Volunteer together. Whether you assist at a food bank, homeless shelter, or donate gifts to “Toys for Tots”/Angel Tree/Blue or Brown Santa, helping in your community is often easiest during the holidays because there are so many active organizations. This is a ritual that can also translate to your life after January 1st, with many organizations desperate for additional help after the holiday rush!

Keep in mind, when you are choosing rituals, you want to find activities that both you and your spouse can enjoy. If your ideas of holiday traditions are drastically different, try to find a balance between rituals geared towards you and your significant other’s interests - being aware that none of these new traditions should be “painful” for you or your partner, because that will likely only cause you to abandon them before you have an opportunity to recreate them year after year. As your repertoire of traditions and rituals grow each year, take time to discuss the ones you enjoy the most, the ones you enjoy the least, and discard unfavorable traditions, so you have time to introduce new rituals and spice up your holiday season!


LifeTip: How to Have an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Holiday

Photo by  Simple Co.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simple Co. on Unsplash

The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?

Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!

  1. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.

  2. Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.

  3. Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.  

  4. Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.

  5. Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.

  6. Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.

  7. Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.

  8. Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.

  9. Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.

While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!

LifeTip: Decisions! Decisions! Oh My!

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This time of year is fraught with decisions and not just what gifts to buy, who to have holiday meals with, or how to reconcile the year-end bookkeeping. Underneath all the minutia of details is often an undercurrent of deeper questions connected to that nagging sense of knowing the new year is ever so close and hoping that THIS year is THE year . . . the year to conquer all those habits that keep you from living the life you’ve imagined. Many of us start the year off strong, determined, and resolute in our goals, only to find our hopes dashed as the realities of life creep back in and resolutions fall to the side. I think it’s probably safe to say this has happened to all of us, at least once!

I think it’s a conundrum. The new year represents this major launching pad for intentional renewal and transformation but in reality is usurped by the hectic happenings that are so part of the end of the year.  Knee deep in holiday shopping, traffic, parties, family drama, and the like we hastily declare resolutions that in the end don’t even begin to reflect who we are, what we really want, or what we could reasonably achieve. Often they reflect culture, family, or what our best friend or romantic partner is doing. It’s as if all the chaos of the end of the year robs us of the chance to tune into those deeper currents of what could be (for the next year) that are rumbling within.

How do we deal with this conundrum, especially given the fact we are already in the frenzy of the holidays? How can we get tuned in so we can make more meaningful decisions/resolutions that stand the test of time? Following is a short but useful exercise to help you get in touch with your core values. Core values are deeply held beliefs that represent the essence of who we are, the truth of that inner being within. We each have our own unique set and while many may have a vague sense of what they are, clarifying and naming them can have a profound effect on decision-making. Decisions made through the lens of core values will naturally be more in line with the inner you. And, being more in line with the inner and real you brings about a more centered and happier you. It just makes sense, right?!

Try the short exercise below. Identify your core values. And, with your next dilemma, whether it’s how and who to celebrate the holidays with or a potential life-changing resolution ask yourself if it supports or goes against one of your core values. Try letting your core values act as a roadmap to guide and resolve both internal and external conflict. Experiment. Have fun with it! Even if you have to make a less favorable decision you will likely find meaning in that decision, making it, perhaps, a little more bearable. Many of my clients find that it works.

Happy Holidays and Happy 2018!

TeenTip: 8 Ways to Become Friends With Your Food on Thanksgiving

Photo by  Jennifer Pallian  on  Unsplash

“Hello, Thanksgiving. Hello, anxiety. Hello, fear foods. I will make friends with you so that I can become the rockin’ girl boss that I know I am inside!” (this is literally what I have written to myself on little post-it notes around my kitchen this Thanksgiving because that’s how I do it in my world). I make friends with fear foods, I say nice things to them, I welcome them into my life and into my fridge, because that’s the only way I can gain mastery over my worry thoughts. You could try this too.

Holidays that center around food can be a stressful time for anyone struggling with or working on recovery from an eating disorder. Here are a few tried and true tips for getting through the holidays:

  1. Check in with your therapist or a trusted friend before, during and after the holiday event. Don’t be afraid to text them what you are afraid of, and reach out for the support you need.
  2. Communicate about your triggers with your family. Remember that your family cannot read your mind, and they need tips on the types of comments that are unhelpful to you, as well as what is helpful for you. Remind family that comments about weight and appearance are not the best, and a good way to re-frame is to say something like “I’m glad to see you! How have you been doing? Watch any good Netflix recently?” - always a good conversation starter!  
  3. Go into holiday meals and events with a plan in place. What time will you leave? Who will be there? Can you plan your meal out ahead of time? Could be helpful to your treatment provider, dietician or parent.  (*You might say, “but Jules, there are a million parties at Thanksgiving, what if I can’t plan my meals out?” To that, I would say that you may not always be able to plan out your meal ahead of time, but working on flexibility is always useful, and can provide you with a way to challenge yourself.)
  4. Treat yo’ self. Leave time to take a bubble bath with a bath bomb, take a slow walk outside and look at the leaves (well, it’s Austin, so maybe not the leaves here…), paint your nails, start a knitting project, watch your favorite show. Taking care of yourself will make the extra stress that can arise feel more manageable.
  5. Distract, distract, distract! Play games with your younger siblings, cuddle your pets, talk to your grandparents, watch a few episodes of Stranger Things - your negative thoughts become less scary if you have people around to distract you.
  6. Try to celebrate small accomplishments. Did you try a few bites more than you were planning on? Did you engage socially when you could have isolated? That’s progress to be celebrated!
  7. Give yourself permission to eat the food you love. I’m going to write that again. In bold because I mean it. Give yourself permission to eat the food you love. Trust that your body will know when it is full.
  8. Take breaks from your family or friends when you need to. You will know when you need to, believe me. Listen to your instincts about needing some downtime, and remember that it’s ok to need a little quiet space to reflect or do some deep breathing.

Managing anything difficult during the holidays requires some extra self-compassion and understanding. A great website for more information is the National Eating Disorders Association. You’ve got this. Lean on anybody and anything that makes you feel comfy, cozy, strong, and connected.  I encourage you to leave open the possibility that it could be a great holiday!

LifeTip: Working Through the Chaos of the Holidays

The holidays are in full swing and you have made it past Thanksgiving. Congratulations! You hopefully have a moment, although probably brief, to breathe before the next big one, but the buildup may be starting to create anxiety. What do you do? There are several things that can help you get through it.

First, remember to breathe! Yes, people probably tell you this all of the time and it can sometimes make you want to scream. You breathe all of the time, your unconscious mind makes you do it. However, you can take some conscious control over it by slowing your breath down, which in turn will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (nerd alert!). All this means is that your body will put on the “brakes” and slow down, relax your muscles, and slow your heart rate. To slow your breath down, breathe in through your nose, count the number of seconds it takes you to inhale, breathe out through your mouth, and double the length of your exhale. Breathe in for four seconds, exhale for eight. One way to do that with less effort is to purse your lips together when you exhale—like you are trying to blow the flame of a candle without blowing it out. This is a great breathing exercise to try with the tiny humans in your life. Kids love to blow out candles, even the make believe kind!

Second, make a list. Having a million thoughts, ideas, and tasks that need to get accomplished can add to the anxiety. Write everything down, so they are no longer floating around in your head or popping up at the most inconvenient times like when you are in a meeting or reading a book to your child and you want to remain present with them. But you can never remember to bring the piece of paper or journal with you? Put it in your phone. Find whatever works best for you. When you finally have a moment, maybe at the end of your day, see which things you can cross off your list for the next day. Be careful not to schedule too many tasks in one day.

Third, make time for yourself. If you have to, put it on your list so that it becomes as much a priority as buying groceries. Maybe you are a parent and have a full-time job,or a student in the middle of finals, or just a person who feels like there is never enough time in the day. Take a shower at night when the kids are asleep, this could be your time and it may be only 5-10 minutes but it’s your time. Splurge on the fancy soap or the extra soft towel. Practice some mindfulness and appreciate your moment (See Huffington Post article link below for more ideas).

Fourth, get your body moving. There are so many benefits to exercise, but for anxiety, it can help you get all of that extra energy out, clear your head, and increase your endorphins. Again, where is the time? Go outside with your kids and run with them. On your lunch break, get a walk in for 15-30 minutes. Do an online yoga practice at home. Make it something you actually enjoy doing. Not another to-do list anxiety provoking task.

All of the ideas listed above are for you to try out and see what works for you. Everyone is different and handle situations differently, so please take what serves you and leave the rest behind. After all, the goal here is mindfulness and self care, not one more should. We are with you.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/meditation-in-action-5-tips-to-be-mindful_n_3253336.html

LifeTip: The Power of Traditions

The holiday season has arrived, and with it all the joy and increased stress (and expenses!) that we have come to expect.  Amidst all the hustle and bustle, many families find some familiar moments of calm and connection in the ways they celebrate.  Our unique traditions and rituals, whether daily or seasonal, hold immense psychological power.  

Image Source: https://www.tinyprints.com/things-to-know/new-holiday-traditions.htm

Image Source: https://www.tinyprints.com/things-to-know/new-holiday-traditions.htm

The performing of rituals can strengthen family bonds and create a feeling of well-being and stability.  They provide a sense of continuity in our life and become an important way to track time and mark milestones (like a first year of marriage, the birth of a child, or a move to a new city).

Traditions provide an excuse to escape from the rush and distraction of routine life, and focus inward on our deeper priorities.  They invite storytelling and value-sharing conversations into everyday life, and can be a powerful way to connect with our cultural or familial identities, and to create shared family memories.

Rituals can even create a special kind of energy for participants.  I know it sounds hokey, but imagine feeling a buzzing excitement while waiting for a concert to start, or feelings of joy and closeness when attending a wedding.  Sociologist Emile Durkheim referred to the feeling as “collective effervescence” (is that not an amazingly fun phrase?!).  Collective effervescence refers to a unique electric, almost transcendent energy that people can experience when joined in collaborative groups.

How does your family get their collective effervescence during the holiday season?  What are your family’s holiday traditions?  Is it a movie or game night?  A specific meal?  The dusting off of old records?  An annual trip?  Is it time to create a new one?

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201405/5-ways-create-family-traditions

https://www.argosy.edu/our-community/blog/The-Psychology-and-Science-of-Traditions-Rituals

 

Happy Earth Day!

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Today is April 22nd - Earth Day 2014! The above picture is a funny reminder to us all that we should take care of our environment every single day, but why not have a CELEBRATION at least once a year, too?

Earth Day reminds us that we have a special connection to our planet and to nature...one that goes beyond how we use it for resources and shelter. Research indicates the importance of nature in healthy childhood development. In Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, he uses the term nature-deficit disorder to explain the correlation between an increase in social, emotional and physical health problems with the decrease of time spent in nature. 

Do you ever notice that after you have spent the entire day inside and then you finally go outside you have a feeling of relief that comes over you? This relief is more than just thankfulness that you are no longer at work or school! It's a relief that you are once again connected to nature. Our bodies cravethe outdoors and, more importantly, wild nature!

So what does this mean? It means that you can have a happier, healthier and more productive day just by taking time to walk outside, stare out your window or take a deep breath of the outdoor air. It is just that simple!

Begin a new ritual today in honor in Earth Day and make a positive change for yourself just by being outdoors. Then, join Austinites for a beautiful weekend in celebration of our great city and our beautiful Earth!

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giving thanks

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Thanksgiving is a few days away, and you’re most liking thinking of all the savory dishes that are soon coming your way. The difficult part is getting from here to there without all the chaos, last minute emergencies and traffic headaches.

In order to have a stress-free lead-up to Thanksgiving, enlist your tween or teen to collaborate on activities, meal planning and more! For recipe ideas, check out Pinterest to find new dishes to make. You can find recipe ideas here and here. For help with party decorations, you can look here. Thanksgiving comes with plenty of ways to have family events, such as searching for recipes and fun craft ideas and then bringing the recipes and crafts to life. Additionally, more ideas on how to have Thanksgiving family fun can be found here and here.

While it's sometimes hard to remember amid all the holiday hubbub, this is also a good time to talk with your kids about gratitude. Creating a simple family ritual of sharing thanks can be a great way to practice this and help your teen build her emotional intelligence. It can also protect us from some of the holiday chaos by reminding us to slow down and focus on something we are thankful for. 

And for the girls out there who find the holiday a little overwhelming, here's a tip from last year for how to survive and thrive over the Thanksgiving break!

Boo! Halloween Fun!

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With Halloween a few days away, many last minute preparations are happening now. Along with having fun on  this spooky day, safety should also be a  priority in order to make the best of the holiday. In the midst of all the costume and party planning, teens and parents can check out several resources designed to help ensure a safe outing. There are several places where parents and teens can get ideas on how to stay safe while trick-or-treating, during a party, or at a similar event. The following articles, along with parents’ own rules, can be used as a guide:

If you’re looking for cool party and costume ideas, you can check out  Seventeen’s Halloween article. If anything, Halloween gives us the chance to be creative and put our minds (and craft skills) to the test! 

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(Dunkin' Donuts...get it?!?)

For local, family friendly Halloween events, you can check out this link where you will find information on upcoming Halloween carnivals, festivals, costume contests, and haunted houses, among other activities. These events are great for family outings or teen gatherings! With the help of family and friends, this Halloween has the potential to be a great one!