Sanity Savers and More...
December 2005


The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here. It's a joyous time which can be filled with last minute details and lots of running around. We tend not to have enough time to get everything done and are prone to stress.

Pace yourself, take time to relax and absorb all of the wonderful memories you'll be creating into the New Year. Enjoy gatherings with loved ones (See Below, Holiday Gathering Survival) and remember those who are no longer here (See Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays).

Once again thank you for helping to get the word out about my new book (co-authored with Annie Gilbar), Wedding Sanity Savers.

Please pass along this newsletter to your friends, loved ones and colleagues by clicking Send to a Friend button below.

Wishing you a Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year along with health, peace and balance in 2006.


In this issue
  • Sanity Savers
    Surviving Holiday Gatherings
  • Happening in December
  • TIPS
    Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays
  • A Thought

  • Sanity Savers
    Surviving Holiday Gatherings

    We Idealize the Holidays
    Often we fantasize about our expectations of holiday gatherings and dream of the perfect celebration; everyone united in family harmony. You know, the event when sibling rivalry is checked at the door, there are no intrusive or sarcastic comments about your social life, employment, appearance, or children. People are treated respectfully, graciously, kindly and everyone has the feeling that everyone else is so happy to see them that there could never be enough time to spend together. Right? Wrong.

    Maybe it's Time to Change Your Perception
    No one has the perfect family or lives in the perfect world, yet we hope and pray that THIS year things (people) will be different. Maybe it's time to examine and come to terms with what the holidays really mean to you. Instead of trying to change the behavior patterns and attitudes of your family members, change YOUR perception and attitude about how you can still enjoy the holidays and find meaning when you are together with your family. You can accomplish this while at the same time keeping all of the enriching family rituals that are so important to you, your children and your family.

    Savour Family Time and Enjoy Everyone's Company
    The holidays do not just have to be about who brings what to the table (and I am not only talking about the food.) It can be a time for communal reflection, family stories, sharing of memories, as well as hopes for the future.

    Sanity Savers
    Here are some Sanity Savers to help you along just in case your holiday experience falls a tad short of the idealized image. And remember, even though it may seem so, you are not the only person whose family doesn’t look like the one in the ad.

    1. Keep your expectations realistic or better yet don’t have any expectations – Even though we’d like our holiday celebrations to look like a magazine spread and be thoroughly enjoyable, this is an idealized view and is likely to go sour. Instead, allow yourself to “go with the flow,” expect last minute changes, keep a sense of humor and don’t take things personally.
    2. Approach gatherings with a feeling of gratitude – Believe it or not, everyone in your family has affected you in some way and it’s important to concentrate on the positive contribution they have made to you as well as others.
    3. Focus on a specific quality, personality attribute, or gift each person in the family has given you - Savour that big hug and kiss from your niece rather than her tantrum later on when she spills gravy on her new holiday dress.
    4. Go with an open mind – Don’t get bogged down with family “history” (baggage) that has little bearing on today. Open your mind and hopefully your heart will follow. Remember as much as you may want people to change you cannot change them. You can, however, change yourself and your attitude.
    5. Be aware of triggers from the past that you don’t want to repeat with certain family members this year – If you know that your sister is still fuming about forgetting her birthday, give her a cherished family photo that she may not have or invite her to doing something fun and out of the ordinary.
    6. Think about what you can bring to the gathering – Everyone in a family makes their own unique contributions. What can you do this year that reflects your own personal touch? Understand that you may not be the center of attention.
    7. Focus on making your time with family special – There are not many days out of the year when family members are all together. So use the time wisely and tell each one what they mean to you or what you have learned from them. Bring a camera or a recorder to document the family interaction in the way you would like.
    8. Ask non-intrusive questions about what people are interested in and doing with their life – Be genuinely interested in their stories and listen with attentiveness. Suspend judgment.
    9. Do not feel propelled to respond to personal questions directed towards you – Instead politely disengage from the conversation. When asked, “So have you got a girlfriend?” respond, “Thanks for your interest, I’ll let you know when it happens”. Or if someone inquires about your job hunting, answer them by saying, “I appreciate your concern but today, I’m not talking about work."
    10. Share the parts of your life you want to share. Be careful not to violate your own boundaries - Politely direct conversation in another direction. Be careful not to get pulled into old patterns or assume an old role.

    Happening in December

    TODAY Show
    Click to Dr. Dale's website for upcoming TODAY Show appearances.
    Dates and times subject to change.

    Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays

    The holidays usually make us think of those who are no longer with us or of relationships that are no longer the way we would like them to be. Our loss is more keenly felt as we evoke memories of the past with the person who is absent. The loss is further accentuated because we miss them at our joyous occasions.

    Pay attention to who IS present while consciously bringing to mind stories or traditions that were unique to the people who are not there. This can be emotionally moving as well as a wonderful opportunity to recall with joy the gifts you have received from the special people in your lifetime.

    To cope with your feelings of loss during the holidays:

    • Enrich your life by processing the loss of loved ones and moving forward -That person would want you to be happy. Honor his or her memory by taking time to heal your own heart with reflection while enjoying the holidays with those who are present.
    • Create Your Own Traditions – New rituals can serve as a structure to replace family customs that may have been lost when your loved one died.
    • Do Something on Behalf of the Individual- Contribute to their favorite charity or commemorate their memory in some way, each year, or each holiday.

    By dealing with your feelings of loss in anticipation of and during the holidays, you prepare yourself to celebrate the life of the person and appreciate the gifts they gave you. This is part of healing because when someone dies their loss is felt in different ways throughout our life. By allowing yourself to be open to how your grief transforms you, the chances are greater that you will be more able to appreciate the holiday spirit.

    Here are additional TIPS to help you process your feelings of loss:

    1. Quietly reflect on our loved one’s life - How are you like them, what fond memories can you recall, what stories about our deceased loved one can you pass down to your children? Visit the cemetery or create a memorial space where you can have time to just "be".
    2. Create a remembrance ceremony - Make a candle centerpiece where each candle represents someone who has died. As you light each candle, share a memory about each person. This does not have to be maudlin. It can be a joyous memory, a funny story, something that makes you smile and keeps their memory alive.
    3. Continue a tradition they started - Bake grandma's favorite pie, attend a community church service as your deceased mom did, serve at a soup kitchen before dining as a family as your father did.
    4. Share memories with other family members - Show pictures from family trips, wear your aunt's heirloom pin and tell others about the day she gave it to you, pass around your mom's scrapbook.
    5. Journal – Before and after family gatherings, write down what you feel. Hopefully you will find comfort in releasing your feelings on paper so you can enjoy gatherings with others around you.
    6. Include rituals that have been longstanding and begin new ones - Continue legacies that keep memories alive of your loved one and try to incorporate new traditions which will give you and your family a fresh outlook and hope for the future.

    A Thought

    When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left.

    "Sufi epigram"

    DALE V. ATKINS Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, lecturer and media commentator who appears regularly on the Today show.

    She has more than twenty- five years of experience as a relationship expert, focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well and stress management.

    Dr. Atkins is the author and/or co-editor of several books including:

  • Sisters
  • From the Heart:
    Men and Women Write Their Private Thoughts about their Private Lives
  • Families and their Hearing-Impaired Children
  • I'm OK, You're My Parents
    How to Overcome Guilt, Let Go of Anger and Create a Relationship that Works
  • and her lastest book

  • Wedding Sanity Savers
    How to Handle the Stickiest Dilemmas, Scrapes and Questions that Arise on the Road to Your Perfect Day
  • Find out more....
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