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As a relationship therapist in Santa Rosa, CA, I expect that I will receive increasing requests for counseling and therapy around this time of year. Relationships are challenged during the holidays, for many reasons.

Catalog titles such as “For When Love Is All You Need For The Holidays” raise the question; What if I don’t have love in my life? Pictures of happy men and women, happy couples, happy families, and happy children are everywhere. So, what if you aren’t happy? What if your life doesn’t look like that?

Most people in our culture expect to at least want to enjoy some parts of some holidays. The truth is that many of us are disappointed, afraid to hope, and have lonely or even ugly childhood memories. Traditions may not have not been formed or are not positive . With families living apart from one another, or the need to balance the demands/expectations of various family members against one another, when and where is there time and energy to make any of it be the way you want?

Often, requests for help at this time are about how to manage conflicting demands. That dumps us right smack in the middle of how to handle demands of any kind, and how to increase tolerance for tension while thoughtfully crafting a plan of action. In addition, if you have experienced any significant loss in your life within the last 12 months, it’s reasonable to expect that seeing and hearing about  families, friends, and loved ones gathering might trigger strong feelings of sadness, grief and depression, even feelings of anger.

Here are some tips for coping:

1. Allow for your real feelings. If you are sad, realize that it’s okay to cry. You can’t make yourself feel happy just because the calendar says you should!

2. Reach out to others. Making plans with people, or joining in community, charitable or other group events can make you feel less alone.

3. Volunteer. Helping others can be extremely rewarding and gratifying.

4. Consider starting new traditions. If the holidays feel empty, you can be creative and fill the time with something meaningful to you. One person I know hosts an “orphan’s dinner”, a potluck meal for all the friends who might also be feeling lonely. And trust me when I say that’s a pretty big group at this time of year!

5. Don’t give up on self care! Eating and/or drinking too much, not sleeping, spending more than you can afford; all are behaviors which will have negative consequences in the near future. Taking good care of yourself will actually reduce stress and depression down the road.

Consider seeking professional help. Give yourself the gift of understanding and change!

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