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The Holidays are Coming…

Holiday Stress Tips

It’s that time of year again and many of my patients are already anticipating the pressure and emotional turmoil that each of our families bring to the holiday table.

One of my clients just left a session saying, “I love them all but they drive me crazy”. I asked her what behaviors specifically drive her crazy. She talked about her uncle who drinks too much, her mother who is a perfectionist and has to have “everything just right”, making everyone uncomfortable. She talked of her husband not helping enough with her sons on Christmas morning, the cousins who talk to load, each too much, sing off key and the aunt who makes the same horrible cake every year and on and on. We were both laughing at this point as Marie is incredibly funny and of course her Spanish family sounds so similar to my Italian family that I couldn’t help feeling right at home.

I’m guessing no matter what ethnic background you come from you can identify. At one moment when Marie became a bit somber I asked her how it would be to be without her father, who died of a heart attack in July. She began to tear, and started recalling all the Christmas’s of the past, how she wished she could return with him to those days. I asked if her perfectionist mother, her uncle who drinks too much, her aunt who is the horrible baker and her cousins who talk to loud and sing off key were there. Of course she remembers they were all present. Despite their idiosyncrasies her memories were filled with crazy love despite the imperfections of her family.

Marie is feeling more pressure this holiday season because it will be the first without her father. She is less tolerant of the shortcomings of family members because her loss over rides everything else.

As we age the holidays can still maintain their magic but they also consist of many memories we wish we could re-enact. We all lose people and dreams along the way. Maybe were not in the marriage we fantasized about, or maybe some are alone and wondering if there magical Christmas or joyous Hanukah will ever be with a special someone. Maybe we never quite reached the status we desired, or made the money we thought we would, or maybe we, like all other human beings, are forced to cope with the realities of an ever-changing life. Our dreams have been disrupted and the season and our lives are not quite what we fantasized.

Marie realized as we talked about her Dad that eventually a holiday season will come when all these irritating people will not be present, and she may indeed miss them. After all her Dad was expected to be here for many years to come. He wasn’t perfect but he was her first boyfriend and he truly loved family. He taught her to cherish all family members despite their faults, and family to him was not just blood relatives but all those whom he engaged in a genuine relationship.

Let’s all make Marie’s realization our holiday perspective. Life and family seldom go according to our dreams but we can make awesome memories if we give in to the reality of the people in our lives. We all know what to expect, try to accept or at least develop gratitude for the fact that we are here one more year to celebrate togetherness. It takes little ability to get along with people who act exactly the way we desire. True compassion, empathy and wisdom exist when we give up control and develop a loving heart with the family we were given, not the one we created in fiction. Someone your sitting next to this year may not be here next holiday season, and it could be you!
Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.
Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience

A Christmas Story


It has been several years since my Dad’s passing but there is one Christmas gift he gave that I remember more than any other.  Years later I still feel enormously grateful for the gift he gave me that never faded, never worn out and never failed to be a gift that sustained me throughout my life. I hope all parents will remember the meaning of this story as you contemplate what to give your children this season.

When I was 9 years old I asked for a Lionel train for Christmas. I wanted that train so much that I couldn’t think of anything else. I dreamed about it day and night, imagining what it would look like speeding along its miniature track. Nobody else in my neighborhood had a Lionel. I would be the first to own one, and that I believed would make me special.

On Christmas morning I woke up when it was still dark and tiptoed past my sleeping brother. The stairs creaked in our apartment so I stayed on the edges, hoping to keep the magic moment to myself. A light was on in the kitchen and I peeked in to see my father sitting at the table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. He looked up at me, something shifted in my heart and I knew there would be no train under the tree.

Without a word I ran into the living room and stood before the Christmas tree. Blinking back tears and still believing in miracles I hoped the train would just suddenly appear before me. Maybe I missed it, I thought, picking up boxes and shaking them. Maybe it’s in a closet or maybe it’s outside on the porch.

“Arthur.”  My Father’s voice was gentle as he kneeled down next to me. “We could not afford the train. I’m sorry, because I know how much it meant to you.”

He put his hand around my wrist and squeezed, a gesture he used only when he was discussing issues of the utmost importance. “You may not understand what I am about to say now, but someday you will” he said. “On this Christmas morning, with just you and me in this room, I would like to give you a gift far greater than anything money can buy. I want you to know that I will always love you. No matter what happens in your life, I will always be with you, believing in you,supporting you,cheering for you. No father could ever love a son more than I love you, and that love will never rust or need repairs-it will always be yours, now and for the rest of your life.”

I must have given him a look of doubt and perhaps confusion-How can love make up for a Lionel?-for he squeezed my wrist tighter and leaned toward me. I breathed in the familiar, bittersweet odor of Chesterfields and Maxwell House coffee, mixed with plenty of sugar and cream. “Believe me  Arthur,” my father said, “this will come to mean more than any other gift I could give you, I promise you that.”

This Christmas, many years later, it is still the best gift I could have ever received. His love, even after he is gone, lives inside me in a very powerful way. Try to give the gift of eternal love this season, it is truly everlasting.

What is your favorite Christmas Memory? Please share it via comments below.

Connect with me on Twitter @DocAPC

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.

Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience

10 Ways to Make Your Holidays Special

10 Wyas to Make the Holidays Special

  1. Write something very personal to those closest to you.
  2. Take time to purchase holiday cards that speak to the uniqueness of the person your addressing.
  3. Prepare or purchase foods that you know will please others, tailor your choices to those who you will be with.
  4. Make a toast before your main meal that honors the elders at your table.
  5. Include in your comments poignant stories of the history of the family.
  6. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” sometime during the holiday season.
  7. Open gifts with your favorite holiday music in the background.
  8. Choose music that enlivens the spirit and is holiday focused.
  9. My favorite is Karaoke at the end of the day; you’d be surprised how much fun it is for all.
  10. Don’t be inhibited, get up there and sing and dance. Make a video for golden memories.

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D.,Ph.D.
Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive  Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience

Handling Grief During the Holidays

Handling Grief

As we age we accumulate losses in our lives. This time of year often brings back memories of those important people we have lost through death, breakups, divorce and distance. One of my patients just told me she misses her mother terribly at this time of year. “She made Christmas so special and it has never seemed the same”. She went on tell me she should get over this sadness or she’ll become depressed. “After all my Mom has been gone a long time, I don’t want to get depressed so maybe I should just put her out of my mind”.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that experiencing sadness causes depression or a down mood. The opposite is actually true. Experiencing sadness, connecting this emotion to thoughts of the person missed allows us to place our history in perspective. We can then move on with vitality and enjoy the present holiday. Sadness has been called the vitamin of growth; it slows our thinking to allow for reflection and gives us the opportunity to share with those close to us our past hurts. We can then place these emotions where they belong.

If we internalize, as my patient is suggesting, we often don’t realize how much psychic energy it takes to keep our emotions and thoughts to ourselves. Emotions shared with those who employ empathy to understand our experience is a relief and in many ways can liberate us from our sorrows

Try not to view sadness as a detriment to your health but rather as a cue to slow down, listen to your thoughts, express to those close to you so you can regain energy in the process. Allowing yourself to be understood and cared for by those who are truly interested in your welfare is a means of sharing the burden of loss. In the process you will likely feel touched by the love that exists in your life currently.

Remember it takes courage to be vulnerable but those of us who have inhabited the earth for a time realize it is strength of the greatest magnitude, an ability that frees us emotionally to be present with those we love throughout the holidays.

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