8 Ways To Put the “Happy” Back in Happy Holidays!

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Despite everyone shouting, “Happy Holidays!”, this time of year is often a mixed blessing. Time spent connecting with friends and family over the holidays doesn’t always conjure up warm feelings and happy memories while roasting chestnuts by the fireplace. Sometimes just knowing we are going to be spending time with people who don’t always make us feel warm and fuzzy creates quite the opposite – additional stress and anxiety!

Unresolved issues and personality differences heighten our awareness of the strife that continues with added external pressure (from others, from society) to put all that aside because “it is after all the holidays.” What? Let’s face it, this can be challenging!

Additional pressure, stress, and anxiety to do more, spend more money, crank it up to the “nth” degree and find a way to cram everything in from soup to nuts both personally and professionally by the end of the year leaves us feeling overwhelmed and anything but happy.

BUT, there is hope! Although I am far from having all the answers; I have found through my own introspection (an ongoing and not always a pretty process) and helping others, there are things I do – and being mindful of these things year round –  that have helped me create greater happiness and feel less overwhelmed. These might just help you, too!

1.) Embrace family differences. In my family, despite our differences, I have a colorful, complex, dynamic, and loving family. I cannot imagine my life without any of them. However, embracing family differences is sometimes easier said than done. Although this has proven challenging for me at times, I am a work in progress.

One thing I did and continue to do (though not always perfectly) is embrace changes that I needed to make. I changed my mindset to one of greater understanding and acceptance for whom my family is as well as whom they are not. Making that change has been immeasurably beneficial for me and is directly linked to my happiness.

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2.) Set personal boundaries. I have learned through trial and error (more than once, mind you) how to set personal boundaries with my time, money, and availability. Having been a people pleaser most of my life and adverse to conflict, in the past I would say yes, when I really wanted to say no. I will never forget the purple and yellow button I had when I was younger, that said, “I just said no and I don’t feel guilty!”

Teaching myself how to say no to small things, helped me say no to bigger things.

As I continued to do this, I became more confident in myself and in my decisions. Setting boundaries has created enormous freedom for me.

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3.) Focus on the positives. I focus on the positives rather than the negatives. For example, although I do not have the opportunity to spend the holidays with all my family at the same time due to distance, lifestyles, blended families, I work on spending individual time with my family in an effort to create new traditions and memories. This helps me focus on the overall picture (not just one specific period of time during the year) and cherish family experiences.

4.) Boost Those Endorphins. Anything feels more manageable when you feel healthy, strong and well-rested. So be good to yourself. Maintain good energy by exercising, taking a time out, or spending some time alone. Breathe. Laugh. Repeat.

5.) Curb the merry (a little). Yes, this is the season of cheer, but too much alcohol lowers our inhibitions. We have less control over what we say and the tone we use. The likelihood for arguments and misunderstandings goes way up. This is also the season where we tend to overeat because food is simply everywhere. When stress and conflict go up, our ability to make healthy food choices goes down. Learning to manage the conflict and monitor your mood will help you stay on track with food and alcohol choices.

6.) Have realistic expectations. Ask yourself, what are your expectations for the holidays? We all have them. Are you expecting the perfect holiday? Move away from perfection and anticipation about how things may or may not turn out. This helps decrease frustration and disappointment. I realize it’s not always possible to “just smile and get along” and pretend everything is ok, but sometimes a smile does go a long way. Just ask my father!

7.) Reach out and connect. Relationships take work year round, so don’t postpone having a difficult conversation during the holidays. Its important to address issues and problems when they occur rather than letting them fester and possibly explode during the holidays. This will help reduce conflict and increase happiness during the holidays!

8.) Don’t take life too seriously! At least not all the time. Humor and levity absolutely go a long way!

Enjoy your holidays!! Happy New Year!!

10 Ways To Make Your Blended Family Thrive

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Relationships are dynamic, ever changing, and rarely if ever, static. That’s good! As people we are simply complex. What we say we will do and what we actually do, does not always end up being the same thing. Good intentions don’t always mean good follow through. What we think will work, doesn’t always play out that way. How we interact with others can change with different situations, thus demanding flexibility in our thinking.

People, as an individual or in the context of a family, create a groove, their own and unique way of doing things, an ebb and flow to their life that can feel seamless, despite the ups and downs of life. People have expectations of others, both said and unsaid, a history – all the good and bad, and often many family traditions that want to be preserved in the midst of change.

When two families with children, often with varying ages and developmental needs, decide to merge and begin to form a new, blended family, taking a cue from Facebook, “its complicated” takes on a whole new meaning.

Although there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few things that families can do to help their new families “blend” more successfully…

1.) Remain open and flexible in your thinking as this will help create closeness and build healthy relationships. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work the same way in the present. Sometimes it takes a few “fits and starts” before it feels “right.”

2.) Remember that building new relationships takes time. Lots of time. Family members, especially children, are getting to know you just as much as you are getting to know them. Do not rush into creating a relationship; let it have a natural affinity on its own that can be developed. Developing a new relationship by taking a step back will make it feel more organic, less forced.

3.) Be kind and loving to yourself. Sometimes this is challenging because we start to feel bad if things are not going in the direction we assumed we would.

4.) Create new traditions. Consider everyone’s input in order to make each person feel included. Give everyone time to adjust to these new traditions. Including you! Change takes time…

5.) Nurture the relationship with your spouse or partner. Although everyone to adjust is important, remember to remain focused on nurturing your relationship. Having a strong foundation in your relationship will help you work through the challenges that can often arise.

Old and new life.6). It takes time for families to bond and figure out how the new family will work and function together. The roles will change and possibly change again, which will create another dynamic. Know this is possible.

7.) Connecting with one another doesn’t have to be a daunting task, over the top, or something to the “nth” degree. Go for a walk, read a book together, or talk to them while dropping them off to be with a friend. These are the kinds of things that provide time to nurture the relationship without overkill.

8.) Look at the blended family as a family within a bigger family context and that you and your kids need your own time together. Work hard to honor this. This is will help with the transition. Respecting and cherishing the original family may help everyone become more accepting of the new family.

9.) Don’t fall for some of the myths: That it’s easy and that kids “will adjust.” You don’t have to put the time in to it. If it doesn’t blend well, there is no hope. Love occurs naturally between stepchild/parent. Children of divorce are damaged forever. Kids will be happy about the remarriage. You will not make the same blunders as before. Blended families function just like traditional families. False, false, and false.

10. What might appear unclear and feel really daunting at times, can be managed and dealt with more effectively when the new couple actively works together with a mutual commitment to making their new family work – whatever that new family might look like.

Despite or in spite of the challenges that blended families encounter, there is often incredible love, happiness, and hope.

Hope for the present. Hope for the new family. Hope for a different future.

Every family has their own personal journey..

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The Emotional Sequence of Divorce

Divorce is far from being easy whether you are the one disconnecting, the one being disconnected from, or the disconnection is a mutual decision made by both parties. The combination of fear, grief, sadness, hurt, and sometimes joy creates quite the emotional roller coaster.

In their Friendly Divorce Guidebook, Steven Abel, JD, S.W. Whicher, JD, and M. Arden Hauer, JD offer their invaluable insight, direction, and most importantly “go to” information that encompasses divorce (A must book to have if you are contemplating or going through a divorce!)

A segment of their book discusses the emotional sequence of divorce, which for most people, follows a fairly typical pattern. Although the timing of each phase may vary, everyone goes through these stages.

The Emotional Sequence of Divorce

Crisis. This is the critical point in time when the relationship is coming apart at the seams, when one person has decided to leave the marriage or announces that it’s over well before the other person. The one in this position may begin to “uncouple.” However, at this stage both people could also be at the same place and feel the same way about the marriage and want to divorce.

Reactionary. By and large, this phase feels “crazy.” This phase can and often does extend over several months with its own identifiable stages.

In his book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, (another great book to have!) Dr. Bruce Fisher writes about the five stages of an emotional divorce that parallel the five stages of grief, originated by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Grief is not only about sadness but about loneliness, at times anger and agitation, a sense of feeling weak, vulnerable, and feeling helpless. It can show up as feeling unmotivated to do things – things that were previously very easy to accomplish.

Stage 1. Emotional Shock. Things feel surreal. Denial. Think: “This isn’t happening to me.” During this stage, we tend to suppress the anger and hurt and deny its depth as though nothing is happening. We put on a front, our best manners. We harbor our sadness and put up walls to keep people out because the hurt is too overpowering.

The next four stages are about learning how to accept the end and letting go.

Stage 2. Anger is the predominant feeling during this next stage. Anger gets turned outward towards others. People will outwardly express how bad their husband/wife treated them and how difficult it was to be married to them. However the Catch-22 during this stage is that despite the emotional door still being open to some degree, the outward expressed anger often closes this door with little chance of reconciliation. A strong ambivalence about wanting the spouse back also presides during this stage.

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Stage 3. During this stage, there is still an attempt to prolong the relationship. People tend to bargain and compromise and make deals with their spouse. They may find themselves over accommodating. The danger, however, in doing this is if the couple reunites, the accommodating that was previously done cannot be sustained.

People find themselves angrier than before. The accommodating may be the result of people who struggle with loneliness and unhappiness at the ending of the relationship tend to choose the lesser of two evils – the spouse.

Stage 4. This stage usually begins after a long separation. People feel “the blahs” – often exhibited through internal questioning and some depression. A person will often ask themselves, “Is this it?” “Is this all there is to life?” Despite the questions and feeling blah, there is conversely internal growth through the development of a stronger identity.

People begin to feel that life is more meaningful with a stronger purpose. But, beware of the flip side – some people recognize their hard work has resulted in the ending of the relationship and can become suicidal.

Stage 5. Acceptance. Acceptance of the loss of love yet feeling free of the pain of the grief. The end of the grief is the acceptance of the end of the relationship. Internal peace and moving on bring the transition of divorce and the feelings of grief full circle.

Although each person has their own journey and will go through the stages differently, there is benefit to going through all these stages. In most cases, though difficult and challenging, going through these stages can get you to the place you need and want to be in your life.

C. Recovery. The stage is all about healing, a sense of peace, empowerment, and moving on with your life in a healthy and productive manner.

Divorce, like marriage, is not for the faint at heart. Despite the similarities in the emotional sequence of divorce, each divorce is unique in its own right.

Everyone has their own  personal journey….

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