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How to Start Your Own Family Holiday Traditions: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL Mom Show

How to Start Your Own Family Holiday Traditions: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL Mom Show

If you’ve decided it’s time to do your own immediate family traditions for the holidays, how do you break it to your extended family that you won’t be joining them this year?  I talk with Lindsay Aerts from KSL Radio’s The Mom Show about how to start the conversation and manage difficult feelings that might arise.

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Managing Holiday Perfectionism: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

timthumb-1The holiday season can mean added stress and higher expectations (which is not good for “perfectionists” or “recovering perfectionists”!). Part of the added stress is that we often go on autopilot and rarely examine our expectations, or our “shoulds.”

On this week’s episode of Studio 5, Dr. Julie Hanks shared a formula for examining your expectations, deciding where they come from, whether or not you want to hold on to the “should” or let it go, and consider the result of keeping or rejecting the belief.

Download the “Holiday Perfectionism: Shifting Your Shoulds” worksheet (PDF file to print).

Please share with any friends or family who may need help managing high holiday expectations!


Managing Loss over the Holidays

Loss and grief are some of the most powerful emotions we can experience and during the holiday season, symptoms of grief that have previously relented, might suddenly return.  Such is the case with many clients I treat. For some, grief is new, for some their loss has occurred years earlier.  Either way, the truth of loss is that we are never truly finished with grieving when someone significant to us dies.  However, (and my clients challenge this!) there are many ways to live with the loss without suffering from it. Here are some suggestions to manage grief during the holidays:
1 – Create rituals and memorials of your loved one. It is helpful to draw on your personal spiritual and cultural beliefs to guide you in the creation of a meaningful remembrance.  For example, one client put up a “Chicago Bulls” tree in honor of her son, who was an avid fan.
2 – Meditate by intentionally remembering both the happy and sad memories.  Avoidance rarely works and leads to more suffering.  Set aside time and space to do this meditation-either journaling, listening to calming music or looking at fun pictures shared with your loved one.
3 – Draw on your support system. Reach out to friends or others who share your grief and let them know this is a difficult time for you.  Attend an event with them or just spend time with friends as a diversion.  Isolation creates more suffering.
4 – Reconnect with a therapist or former grief group.  Re-entering therapy for a session or two can aid in reminding yourself of tools used in grieving.  Or just simply processing what you are experiencing with a professional can be helpful.  Attending a grief group often helps as well.
5 – Change holiday gatherings to limit painful reminders. Maybe it’s time to gather for a breakfast instead of a traditional dinner that your loved one was the focus of.  Having gift exchanges on a new day or omitting them and volunteering for a charity in behalf of your loved one can be very healing.
Using the above suggesting can decrease suffering.  Of course there will always be a void when someone you have loved so much is no longer seen on
a daily basis, but many have found every year hurts a little less than the year before, and as one client stated ” I try not to focus on my own individual pain and try to focus more on the fact that those I have lost are no longer hurting”. Thinking about it that way can bring more comfort and solace.

Tips from Buddy the Elf to Increase Happiness

We all have our favorite quotes from Buddy the Elf, from the 2000 Christmas movie, ELF. If we take a closer look at some of those quotes, I think we will find that there is a lot we can learn from Buddy on how to be happy, and increase our sense of well-being.

1. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear…”

As a matter of fact, according to a German research study, singing does enhance immunity by increasing antibodies that fight sickness ( So, yes, while singing is a great way to spread holiday cheer, it also boosts your own mood and keeps you healthy!


Cut Down On Family Drama During The Holidays: Studio 5

My own personal experience coupled with my professional experience working with families for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned a few helpful strategies for navigating those occasional stressful situations that come whenever families gather.

It’s not your job to make everyone happy
Even though ideal holiday celebrations are associated with happiness, remember that it’s not your job to make everyone happy. Someone will inevitably be disappointed because they didn’t get a gift they were hoping for or because you spent more time with your partner’s family than with them. I worked with a woman in my clinical practice who worked so hard to make sure that everyone was delighted with the holiday gifts and family celebrations that she ended up exacerbating her existing physical health problems and had to spend most of the holiday in bed. We worked together to help her let others have the “privilege” of learning how to deal with disappointment and upset.

Start a different tradition
One of the beauties of being an adult is that you get to choose what you want to do. Family traditions are meant to promote family bonding, not family “bondage.” If you are feeling like you don’t have a choice in how you celebrate the holidays, it may be time to start a tradition of your own and opt out of another tradition.

It’s particularly difficult when there are strong extended family ties to break away and start your own traditions. I know of a family who decided to try leaving town to spend Christmas with an extended family member in another state. This helped establish them as “grown-ups” and sent a clear message that they are going to select which extended family traditions they will participate in.

Act like a grownup, even when you don’t feel like one
Have you ever noticed how family gatherings have a tendency to bring out old patterns and roles? A 50-year-old man can magically transform back into that older teenage brother who used to tease you mercilessly. Or that little sister can shift from a respected adult into a spoiled little girl. If old family patterns resurface, leaving you feeling like (or acting like) a child, remind yourself that you can choose not to revert back to playing your childhood role.

I worked with a man who had taken on the role of “the responsible child” early on in his life. He grew up worrying about finances and caring for younger siblings needs. As an adult, his family continued to look to him to host and foot the bill for parties, gifts, and travel expenses for family gatherings. We worked together to help him step out of his childhood role by allowing his family of origin (now all adults) to make their own travel arrangements, participate in planning and bring food to family gatherings.

Assume that others have good intentions
Even if you are well prepared to handle family drama; it may sneak up on you without warning. An offhanded comment about your parenting skills (or lack thereof) or a sister-in-law forgetting to buy a gift for your family may catch you off guard.

To fend off potential drama, I’ve found it helpful to make up a story in my mind that makes another person’s potentially hurtful behavior make sense. Thinking, “Oh, I know she’s had a difficult time caring for a sick mom” helps me to not take offense and get sucked into family drama. Assuming others’ missteps are underscored by good intentions will help you have a happier holiday.

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Give Yourself the Gift of Gratitude

“What are the benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude?” It turns out grateful people have an edge over the not-so-grateful when it comes to physical and mental health, according to several recent psychological studies.  They tend to exercise more regularly, eat healthier diets, and get a boost to their immune system.  In addition, feelings of thankfulness have a tremendous positive value in helping people deal with increased stress and anxiety which are associated with the holidays.  Gratitude can also serve as a buffer against symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) such as sadness and depression which tend to build up slowly in late autumn and into the winter months.

Wasatch Family Therapy

What better time to reflect of gratitude than during the fast approaching holiday season.  Amid the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, mindfully take a few minutes to slow down, breathe deep, and reflect upon the many blessings in your life.  You can start today to grow your feelings of gratitude.  Here’s how:

  • Keep a Gratitude Journal.The simple act of writing down a few things on a daily or weekly basis for which you are grateful is a great way to feel better about your life as a whole and to feel more optimistic about the future.
  •  Count Your Blessings.  This list may include family, friends, freedom, spiritual convictions, hobbies, talents, and material comforts.  After writing everything that comes to mind, ask yourself, “To what extent do I take these for granted?”  Tuck this list away and pull it out whenever you’re feeling down in the dumps.  This is an excellent reminder of the good things in your life.
  •   Try a Positive Reframe.   When faced with a challenging situation, see how it could ultimately be beneficial.  For example, if you are having a particularly hard time getting along with a neighbor or coworker, rather than complaining that the person is “trying” your patience look at it as an opportunity to “improve” your patience.
  •  Graciously Accept Gratitude from Other People.  Society has taught us to dismiss the gratitude directed towards us as unnecessary.  Saying things such as, “No problem; it was nothing,” or “No thanks is necessary,” robs others of the benefits of showing gratitude.  A simple, “You’re welcome,” lets people know you appreciate being thanked.

As you incorporate these few ideas into your life, I hope you will find – as I have – that life will become richer and more satisfying this holiday season by expressing gratitude to loved ones and by giving thanks for all that blesses your life.  Happy Holidays!


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