Home for the holidays—Tips for surviving the holidays with relationships intact.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

                          — Dr. Seuss

The winter holidays are quickly approaching. For many, it’s a time of celebration and excitement. And, for many, it’s also a time of stress and pressure that can take a toll on us and our relationships. There’s party schedules to be juggled, travel plans to be made, gift lists to be fulfilled, meals to be planned, budgets to be watched, and family visits to be navigated. Sometimes “Home for the holidays” isn’t quite the Rockwellesque scene we might hope for. And if you happen to live in a place like where we are, here in the Pacific Northwest, at this time of the year you may become acutely reminded that all the luscious green nature we so cherish here does come at a cost, a very wet and dreary cost. None of this makes getting through the holidays any easier.  And often it’s our relationships that take brunt of all this holiday stress.

So it’s no wonder that the holidays can prove to be a difficult time for our relationships. Many of us just try to survive the holidays with our relationships intact. However, what if it were possible for our relationships to not just “survive” this stressful time of the year, but to actually grow and deepen? What would it be like if we put at least as much thought into how we are going to nurture our relationships during this time of the year as we do figuring out what gifts to get little Joey?

For those who are in committed relationships, or even if you’re just starting a new dating relationship, here are a few tips for helping to grow and strengthen your relationship even during this busy time of the year.

  1. Practice gratitude for each other—Many traditions this time of year involve doing something every day in anticipation of the big holiday. Whether that be singing Ma’oz Tzur every night, opening the Advent calendar, or lighting the Diwali candles, setting aside time each day for rituals can be a meaningful part of the season. How about  creating your own ritual of sharing your gratitude for your loved one each day. Choose a time each day where you and your loved one take a few moments to share one thing you truly appreciate about your partner. See if you can focus on qualities you appreciate in your loved one, not just things they do.
  2. Make time for each other—This one seems pretty basic, I know, but this can be an especially busy time of the year and your relationship can get lost in the shuffle. Be sure you also make time to be just with each other, away from kids, coworkers, in-laws, and definitely the heaving masses at the mall. Carving out a bit of quality time to reconnect with a partner can be especially important if you’re traveling or visiting family over the holidays. When you’re visiting the family, make time to go out for a walk alone with your partner or sit on the porch having a cup of tea together away from the hustle and bustle of the family gathering. It will be a time to recenter and reconnect.
  3. Have a huddle—There are lots of gatherings at this time of the year, family get-togethers, office parties, social gatherings with friends. These gatherings can be both fun and stressful. Before you and your partner go into one of these gatherings, take just a few moments beforehand to have a brief “huddle” together. You can share if there is anything you are hoping for about the gathering or anything you are concerned about. But most of all, it’s a time to remind each of you that you’re on the same team and that you’re there for each other. That way, when you’re feeling trapped in the corner talking politics with Uncle Bob AGAIN, at least you’ll know that your partner is with you in spirit, even if at the moment he’s across the room running interference between Aunt Betty and Grandma May.

Those are a few ideas to hopefully make this season even more meaningful for you and your loved one.

And if you’re looking for  more resources, I’ve also pulled together some other relationship resources here.

Two Cool Addiction Web Resources to Add to Your Favorites Folder

A couple weeks back I was perusing the news on the internet when I came across an interesting story and really cool idea in addictions research. Researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia have created a National Quit & Recovery Registry. To better understand how people quit using drugs and alcohol, as well as how people remain in recovery from drug and alcohol problems, researchers at the institute created an online database where people share what helped them quit and what helps them in recovery. The researchers are asking people who have at least 1 year in recovery from an addiction (including overeating, nicotine, or “other harmful behavior”) to describe their personal strategies for quitting and staying in recovery. People who share their stories can do it anonymously or confidentially and will be offered the opportunity to participate in various research studies aimed at better understanding addiction and recovery. Based on the registry’s website, it looks fairly easy to contribute your “success story.” If you are a person who is in recovery from addiction this seems like a great way to share your own personal strategies for successfully quitting an addiction and also contribute to science.

Why The Registry is Awesome (in My Personal Opinion)

Many of you who follow the blog know that my colleagues and I really value science and the research process. One reason why I’m excited about this registry is that it will likely yield a wealth of research studies that will improve our understanding of addiction and ultimately lead to better addiction treatment. Although mental health researchers and professionals have done a wonderful job in creating effective therapies for addiction, we know that these treatments do not help everyone and that relapses are common. I am excited about the possibility that we can improve addiction treatment and help reduce the suffering of people with addiction, their families, and their loved ones.

A second reason why I’m excited about the registry is that comes from a person-centered perspective. What do I mean by this? Person-centered refers to a focus on the individual, including the unique factors that are related to a person’s personality and mental health. Prior to my work here at Portland Psychotherapy, I worked with individuals experiencing serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia). At the clinic where I worked there was a strong emphasis on putting the person first, not their mental illness. As result of my experiences working in a place that heavily emphasized person-centered care, I continue to value this perspective in mental health and addiction treatment. I think it can be easy to fall into the trap of only seeing the addiction and forgetting about the person with the addiction. I believe there is great value in gaining from perspectives of people who have quit using and who continue in their recovery from drugs and alcohol. I really like the blending of science with a person-centered perspective.

A Second Cool Addiction Website

Another interesting internet resource I came across recently is Dirk Hanson’s blog “Addiction Inbox.” Dirk Hanson is a science reporter who has done a fair amount of writing on addiction and recently had a book on the science of addiction published. His blog is a treasure trove of posts about addiction. Although I disagree with some of Mr. Hanson’s points, I find his blog to be informative and accessible to a wide audience. I particularly like his posts about new research studies on addiction, as well as his posts about emerging substances that may be potentially addictive, but not yet recognized by the government as such (e.g. “Spice”). I appreciate Mr. Hanson’s ability to take complex research and to simplify it to its most interesting (and possibly most useful) points.

With so many addiction websites and blogs available, it can be difficult to find ones that are easy to understand and science-based. I believe the two websites offered in this post are accessible to a wide range of people and give people the opportunity to look behind the veil of scientific research on addiction. I hope you will find these websites as useful as I have.