It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for many of us, the pressure of the holidays can snowball as the season goes on.
FORDHAM magazine spoke with family therapist Stephen J. Oreski, DSW, LCSW, GSS ’08, about what we can do to enjoy the holidays with loved ones while keeping our own stress levels in check.
It often seems that our expectations keep us from enjoying the true gifts of the season. What can we do to manage expectations, both for kids and adults?
“We have this picture in our minds about what Christmas should be and when we put our own picture next to it, it doesn’t measure up. And I think it’s the same for kids. We’ve got to work with our kids to help them understand that,” Oreski said. “And that it’s about the giving, not the receiving. It’s nice to get gifts, but what are you going to give to someone who maybe doesn’t have as much?”
He recalled going to the post office with his mother to send a Toys for Tots gift, after taking money out of his own jar to help pay for the present. “That always stuck with me,” he said.
For gift-frenzied parents, Oreski said it’s important to remember that “it’s not a win to give kids everything they want, but it’s a win to have them understand the message of the season.”
“It’s the sharing of ourselves that’s going to make the difference. Writing a card about your feelings for someone will stay with them much longer than the gloves or the scarf.”
How about time management—do we tend to overextend ourselves? How can we be better about that?
“Again, it’s about not putting so much pressure on yourself and doing what you’re able to do,” he said. “It’s the special moments and the time you connect with the people that you love that is the real gift at Christmas.”
Oreski said he treasures the time he spent as a boy with his father, who took him out to look at Christmas lights every Christmas Eve while his mother wrapped the gifts. “It’s not about doing all those things that you’re checking off a list. If you think back to what you remember, it’s probably not all those things.”
Many people will be hosting or attending family gatherings over the holidays, and as we all know, all families have their conflicts. What can we do to keep the peace and bypass the drama?
“Certainly we can’t control all these situations. I think you do the best that you can and realize everyone’s an adult” and responsible for their own actions. “Once you realize that, you can take a step back,” he said. “And limit the alcohol.” Drama, he said, “tends to happen when people loosen up.”
This time of year can be difficult emotionally, especially for those going through a tough time. What can we do to battle the holiday blues?
“A lot of times people feel like, things are not perfect, this is not the Christmas I wanted, nothing is right,” Oreski said. “For me, the end of the year and Christmas are kind of about new beginnings. There’s always hope for the new year.”
Practically speaking, he said, “Try to maintain your schedule. If you exercise, make sure to maintain that. Try not to eat too much sugar. Also, watch the alcohol because it’s a depressant.”
Above all, he said, “Be kind to yourself.”
Stephen J. Oreski, DSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in individual, couples, and family therapy. He maintains a busy private practice in Paramus, New Jersey. He is also the director of clinical services at Healing Space, a sexual violence resource center in Bergen County. In spring 2016 he’ll be teaching a CEU course called Sexual Violence Across the Lifespan at Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service.