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January 2011



Recent Posts


Get Through the Holidays with Humor and Grace: Four Strategies for Couples and Families

Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 19th 2009

Are you looking forward to a relaxing holiday? Have you made plans that fit your unique values, needs, and energy level? Or do you feel pulled by the needs of friends and family, swept into the consumer rush, or tantalized by images of perfect holiday bliss and feeling like you can’t measure up? These strategies will help you balance needs of others with your own, and make the holiday season more enjoyable.

Give up perfection: It’s inspiring to imagine a holiday filled with closeness and warmth, with a healthy dose of time for yourself to relax. But gatherings with real people bring real tensions. If you try to make the holiday perfect, the results can be frustrating.

Kierra* prided herself on finding the “perfect gift” for each friend and family member, and throwing a “perfect” holiday party each year too. She spent hours planning, shopping, and baking, and cleaning. But now with two toddlers, she didn’t have the time and energy to keep it up. At first she struggled with frustration and guilt about letting people down. Then she started to let go of “perfect” and aimed for “relaxing and fun.” She downsized her party, simplified her gifts, and spent more time her family. When the holidays were over, she felt refreshed.

Take care of yourself: Everyone needs a few moments alone to relax and unwind. Find at least 20 minutes a day to talk a walk, read, listen to music, play with the cat, have a cup of tea – whatever works for you.

Tracie and her sister argued a lot, and holidays were especially tense. Tracie took care of their elderly parents and wanted help. Her sister wanted to use her hard-earned vacation time to take day-trips and walks in the hills. When they got together, both felt short-changed and unhappy. Then Tracie and I worked on strategies to take care of herself and help her stay out of arguments. Her mood improved, and her relationship with her sister changed. Tracie stayed calm and focused when they talked, and her sister listened. Tracie got more help and more time for herself. It turned out to be one her most memorable holidays.

Turn to your partner: When you are surrounded by people and expectations are high, it’s best to have a stress-reducing ritual that is short and effective. Once or twice a day, ask your partner for a 5-Minute stress talk. You get 5 minutes to vent about whatever is bothering you. Make sure to talk about your own experience, and make sure that your partner knows to listen, not problem solve. This small ritual made a big difference for my clients Zoe and Steve last year.

Zoe and Steve had a hard time balancing her family’s needs with those of their relatives. With three kids and four grandparents, and six aunts and uncles, Zoe and Steve were so busy entertaining that they were exhausted at the end of the day. They needed a way to take care of themselves. Their solution was to take a “time-out”. With an agreed-on signal they excused themselves from the group. Zoe talked about her frustrations for five minutes, while Steve just listened. When the 5 minutes was up, Steve told her how much he appreciated how well Zoe was balancing everyone’s needs, and gave her a hug. Later in the day, Mark asked for his 5 minutes. These stress-reducing breaks helped both of them feel refreshed and relaxed at the end of the day.

Rediscover your core values: Take some time to remember what is truly important to you. Whether it’s family, adventure, community, solitude, learning, or freedom – make sure your holiday celebrations reflect those values. When you and your partner have different values, see if there is a way they might overlap.

Shannon wanted to rent a cabin on the Oregon coast and relax with her husband Mark. Mark was looking forward to their tradition of celebrating the holidays with his large and extended family. Their “cabin vs. relatives” discussions went in circles until they let go of the details and started talking about their deeper values. Shannon valued peace and renewal, while Mark focused on the value of togetherness and community. Because each of them talked about what really mattered, they were able to see how important it was to create a holiday that honored both of their needs. It was easy to work out the details because both felt listened to and respected.

If you’ve felt yourself pulled into holiday activities that left you feeling frustrated and tired instead of peaceful and relaxed…this year, try something different. Give up perfection, take care of yourself, turn to your partner, and rediscover your core values. These strategies will help you feel renewed and refreshed, and enjoy a peaceful holiday season.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Family Ties: Knowing Why and How They Must Remain Snug & Tied!

Saira I Qureshi, MA Updated: Nov 23rd 2009

One of the hardest things in life is to remain fair and be successful in maintaining family ties with parents, siblings, grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses and their families. It’s sad how soon and how deeply, rifts get created among families and happier times are lost, no memories can be had to cherish in later years.  The ultimate sadness is individual regrets, embarrassment for one’s actions, rightful realizations, yes, maybe, but then, even more sadness for losing one’s own, even when they are alive.

Psychological Effects of Weak Family Ties

It is known and well-established in research on and theories about the natural processes of Human Attachment and Social psychology, because they are necessary for human survival. When family ties go awry, a multitude of negative psychological effects overtake the behaviors and personalities of people involved. This includes in extreme cases: psychological trauma, tensions, bitterness, fears, anxiety, depression, frustration, resentment or hostility against each other.

Weakening family ties due to grudges, disappointments, even somewhat or altogether true, leave a lasting bad impression of the minds of the individuals or a family affecting a very broad spectrum of various aspects of their lives.  It also impacts the reputation of the family on the whole and its social status among larger family and in the community where the family lives.

As personal and private as family matters are, once they become known by people who could misuse information and further exploit family members by pitting them against each other lead the victims to becoming paranoid and suspicious. Their mindsets become very narrow because they view newer relations as untrustworthy and often suffer in building and keeping any relationships on good terms, including with their children, spouses or people at work and in their over all general social interactions. 

The end result you don’t want: And then, before one can have the time to think through about it all, in retrospect, people with long-drawn family discord, disagreements and self righteous unfair and unnecessarily tough decisions, end up with lots of uncomfortable resentment, personal anger and embittered souls out of the ones they annoyed and disheartened, in their immediate or extended families. The damage is both at personal and familial levels, as well as impact future relationships with other people. This situation, eventually requires help from family counseling professionals or even legal help to reconcile and resolve issues among member of a family or two fighting families.

Four possible reasons: Reasons due to which family ties can get weakened or come under dual attack include:

1.    Actual suffered hurt through mistrust, deceit, mistreatment, assault, accusation, physical or property damage or non existent reason for picking fights due to sub-conscious desire to hurt / bother someone for no reason
2.    Mischief simply to ignite someone in the family or disturb a whole family by interfering or probing in others’ personal matters
3.    Jealousy or Envy, back-stabbing & fury-causing negative comments 
4.    Cast Doubts based on no evidence and untrue

Helping Others
Doing right for others means doing right for ourselves.

Spirit, science, and health.

As we enter the holiday season this week there are often many opportunities to volunteer our time, talents, and money to worthy causes directed to those who may be less fortunate than ourselves. Collecting food for the hungry, toys for children without many resources, or working at a local soup kitchen all help others enjoy a better holiday season than they might otherwise but it makes us feel good too.

Many people report that helping others feels good, often claiming that they get more out of the experience than those with whom they help. However, what you might not know is that there is research that has demonstrated that doing the right thing for others helps us to do the right thing for ourselves.

For example, many colleges and high schools offer students alternative Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring breaks. At Santa Clara University where I am a psychology professor, these alternative vacations are very popular. Students work with the poor and marginalized of society rather than take a relaxing vacation focused on their own needs and pleasures. Some of these experiences are based in local social service agencies (such as a local homeless shelter) while others occur overseas.

Holiday Blues With Some Shades of Grey 

By Ronald Pies, M.D.
November 18, 2009

Meagan really wanted this Christmas to be “extra special” — not like last year, when the family dinner turned nasty and Uncle Fred left in a huff. But as Christmas approached, the shopping chores multiplied, and the savings account dwindled, Meagan became increasingly anxious and dejected. Paul, her husband, wasn’t of much help — he was preoccupied with his job search, after having been laid off two months ago. Meagan was left to deal with three school-age kids and a part-time “temp” job as a secretary. And all this, at a time Meagan strongly associated with her late mother, who always used to help with the holiday cooking — and who had passed away at about this time last year.

In the past few days, Meagan had found it increasingly hard to fall asleep, and noticed that her appetite was poor. From time to time, she found herself weeping or sighing, but not knowing what to do. She wondered if “maybe having a few drinks” might do her some good.

Meagan (a composite character) has a number of risk factors for feeling down or depressed. First, women have rates of serious depression about twice those of men, and are also at higher risk for a particular type of major depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition, the combined stresses of holiday chores, child care, and financial woes put Megan at risk for what is popularly known as “the holiday blues.” So does Meagan’s “anniversary reaction” over the death of her mother. But what do we really know about the “holiday blues,” beyond hundreds of anecdotes and Internet postings? How do the “blues” differ from SAD and other forms of major depression? And is the commonly-held notion that suicide rates soar during the Christmas and winter holiday season really valid? Some recent research sheds light on these questions, while also highlighting many “grey areas” in our knowledge.

For more information on coping with the “holiday blues,” see the following websites:

Families Advised To Refocus For Holidays To Ease Financial Tension

Article Date: 16 Nov 2009 – 1:00 PST

Martha Wadsworth, associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver (DU), says during the holidays families should focus on what has been proven to matter most in psychological research – quality family time.

“I love the winter holidays because most of them are about being together with those you love and getting back to what is important in life and that’s our relationship with each other,” she says. “Psychological research has shown over and over again that what truly makes people happy is not money, not stuff, it’s time with people you love.”

Wadsworth’s research focuses on coping processes in children and families exposed to overwhelming stress, including financial stress. She suggests that families take this opportunity to build in new family traditions that are more about spending time with each other and less about money. Wadsworth says some families have started giving traditions, where they plant trees, donate to a local shelter or volunteer in a soup kitchen.

“Giving of your time and your energy can be very satisfying,” she says.

Wadsworth says some parents should sit down with their children to explain that the holidays will be different this year. She says parents can make that decision based on their child’s age. “Children who still believe in Santa Clause don’t really know price tags very well, so you can give them lots of boxes with little things inside,” she says. “If they’re old enough to not believe in Santa, then parents can have a conversation with them about how things are going to be different this year, but they’re going to be good.”

Source: Kristal Griffith
University of Denver 


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