Holiday survival guide

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  December 8, 2010

Community Counseling Center's Frances echoes the challenge of family during the holidays. "Families get more stressed; there are more conflicts and misunderstandings." A tension between two people can spread, infecting others in proximity. Stress that "everyone's feeling personally spreads out," says Frances. "People are together more, you're thrust together with people you don't normally see."

She also speaks of the sadness that can emerge at this time of year from having lost someone. "If people have experienced major losses, those can be deeply felt at holidays. It can feel like an isolating time, a lonely time."

The lead-up to the new year also provokes some reflection about the year just-passed, which can be another locus of pain or sadness or regret. "It's this once-a-year thing," says Wyatt-Jameson. "You think of your life passing. You think of your family. You think about family members who might've died that year. You think of friendships. You think of all the things that may have changed that year." He makes a good point about the annual reuniting with people, be it old friends or family members, that takes place when everyone returns home. "There's a lot of catching up to be done which makes you think about your own life," where you are, where you want to be.

"There's this huge expectation," he continues, "it's supposed to be a good time, joyful, celebratory. But it usually doesn't feel that way."

Susan Fekety, an author, speaker, and health care practitioner who works at True North (Foreside Place, 202 US Rte. 1, Falmouth; 207.781.4488; truenorthhealthcenter.org), Maine's center for functional medicine and the healing arts, speaks to the burden of the heightened expectations that surround the season. Are the holidays living up to how we remember them? Are we honoring traditions the way we should? "We do so much projecting about what's being called for," she says. "We go into a fantasy trance about what we think we're supposed to be doing." We make assumptions about what the people around us really want without checking in with them. "What you usually find when you ask," she says, "is that it's not the big scenario with lights and candles but the human connection. And that's the point of the whole thing."

She also talks about the misconception, wrongly bandied about in women's magazines, that if you get your head right, you'll sail through the holidays with no problem. "Come on," she says. "Nobody does that. We're all humans and we muddle through. We muddle through and no one does it beautifully."

A sense of "chronic obligation" is another burden to contend with, according to Fekety. "It troubles me," she says, "this feeling that we have to do this and this and this, blah blah blah. It's exhausting. It keeps people out of the clear and present moment where they get to decide what they want to do." Fekety tries to teach and support people in how to say "no." It requires bravery, she says.

Fekety, who runs True North's First Line Therapy program, a 12-week program for men and women that develops "a prescription for nutrition and activity based on your current health status and goals," cites the intake of toxic food as one of the primary causes for holiday-time blues.

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