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Dalhousie psychologist offers tips on surviving family drama over the holidays

Dr. Simon Sherry says people tend to have unrealistic expectations going into the holidays
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If your family Christmas won't be this merry, you're not alone (stock photo)

When people think of Christmas, they usually envision a peaceful time with friends and family, but one Dalhousie psychology professor says, if it wasn’t that way last year, it probably won’t be this year either.

Dr. Simon Sherry's phone starts to ring the first week in December with a flood of calls from people worrying about how they'll deal with their families.

According to Sherry, people tend to have unrealistic expectations going into the holidays, thinking this year will be different from all the rest, but there's often a repeating pattern of behaviour over time when it comes to family members.

"In other words, one Christmas get together experience tends to look a lot like the previous get together experience," he explained. "It's almost as if people are assigned a role and they play a role within that Christmas scenario."

He said rituals and routines can be great for stability and security within a family, but if you have difficult people in your life, you may want to plan ahead.

"When I talk to people over the holidays, often times I think the difficulties they have with other people are very well founded. There are disagreeable or even abusive people in their lives," he explained. "I think you want to be strategic and limit your exposure to people who are toxic."

He also recommends limiting your alcohol intake, a drink or two can reduce anxiety, but several over a short period of time could be a disaster.

"That's a depressant, it's going to bring your mood down and it's also going to disinhibit you in ways that probably aren't going to be helpful to your Christmas experience."

He added the most unsatisfied people tend to be those who emphasize the commercial aspects of the season, or demand perfection from themselves and everyone around them.

When you get in a situation where you can't avoid drama or toxic family members, his advice is to try take the high road because you can't control  what others do, you can only be responsible for your own behaviour.

Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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