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Girlfriends and the Holidays: A Match Made in Heaven

December 15, 2010

I almost started crying the other day when I was out to lunch.  There were 2 tables near mine full of women, clearly celebrating the holidays together.  I don’t know how the ladies knew each other, but I daydreamed that perhaps they were book clubs, or neighbors, or maybe had children in the same preschool years ago, or were part of a big family of sisters.  Whatever their relationships, watching them was enchanting.

While the ages of the women varied, they all had a few things in common: they all carried cute little gift bags, and they all wore something holiday-ish (a red scarf, a Christmas pin, a sparkly bag).  And they all looked happy – they smiled and laughed and hugged. It warmed by heart.  And it also got me thinking about the importance of girlfriends.  Because they are essential for women – and no matter how hard we try to make our husbands/boyfriends/partners into a girlfriend, it is never going to happen.  There are just some things that girlfriends can do, that the men in our life never will.

“Oooooooh, I love it!” I heard a lot of this at the restaurant the other day.  As each woman approached the tables, the others exclaimed loudly: “Ooooooh, I LOVE that pin – did you make it?” or “oh my gosh! I love your highlights!” or “Jane, you look amazing – so young and fresh!”  The enthusiasm and affection were overwhelming – and infectious.
I think I’ve heard that before. I can spend hours talking about the same thing.  And then I can talk about it for hours again the next day.  One of my favorite things about girlfriends is that they don’t get sick of listening.  The smallest development in the latest saga, and they listen to the whole story again – and actually seem interested! I know very few men who can hang in there for years on end as the women in their lives wax on and on about the same old thing – but girlfriends can do it with ease.
I think I’ve felt that before. In my clinical work I frequently offer group sessions because I believe in the power of shared experiences.  It is so affirming – and such a relief – to discover that someone else has gone through rough patches in their marriages, gone into debt, struggled with weight, or fantasized about the bachelor down the street too.
I think I can make it now. Spending time with a girlfriend can be energizing.  Laughter, shared experiences, and feeling understood can go a long way in helping to manage stress during this time of year (or anytime, really).  So enjoy those Christmas get-togethers, gift exchanges, holiday teas, and impromptu cookie feasts – and know that you are doing something good for your mental health!
photo by: Cafemama

Surviving the Holidays – with Flair

December 9, 2010

Here it is. My obligatory post on holiday stress. Every year reporters, clients, family, and friends ask me the same question “How can I get through the holidays without losing my mind?” And every year I try to come up with some new, interesting, and actually useful tips so we can all get to January 2nd with our bodies and minds intact. Try the tips below and I guarantee you’ll have fun – and maybe even take the stress level down a notch or two.

Bust out the bling. I was watching Oprah interview Naomi and Wynonna Judd yesterday and I couldn’t

Look closely and you can see the sparkle

take my eyes off Tammy’s bling. I mean, that girl sparkled! Her eyelids, her hands, her arms, her shoes – just about every surface blazed with jewels. As I sat mesmerized by the glow I realized that if a 64-year-old woman can pull off that kind of bling – so can I. And what better time of year to don all your jewels (real and fake) at once?!

 

Get outside. I love being outside, but even a sunshine addict like me can be stuck indoors for days during the holiday season. Baking cookies, wrapping gifts, shopping online – all inside activities. But we know fresh air, sunshine, and a quick walk can help relieve stress – so get out there and soak up the cool, crisp air.

Put the card down. Now. I try not to be negative in this blog, but I have to ask: When did Christmas become the season of bragging? I love receiving Christmas cards, reading sweet sentiments for the new year, and looking at photos of friends I haven’t seen in a while. But I dread the cards with long lists of accomplishments for each family member. “Tommy got 1st place in every swim meet this summer, is the starting quarterback as a Freshman, got the lead in the school play, and is now taking math courses at the University!” or “In addition to running my cupcake business and publishing my third novel, I am also the triplets’ Brownie troop leader, the president of the PTA (for the 4th year in a row – a record!), and completed 2 marathons.” These types of cards are enough to throw me into a fit of irritation, disgust, and feelings of inadequacy. Just what I DON’T need. Next time I think I’ll just leave the offensive Christmas cards/resumes for next year.

Keep it sexy. Yes, Christmas is a family holiday, but it can also be sexy. And who among us couldn’t use a little something to spice up the season?

Whether it’s watching a show like this:

Or looking at pictures of people like this:

Or this:

Or maybe wearing something like this:

Have fun, and don’t forget to bring your sexy back.

Study Participants Wanted

December 8, 2010

I am posting the following notice from my colleague Dr Keely Kolmes who is conducting a study on therapy, social media, and clients.  Please read on for more information:

Are you a person 18 years old or over, who has been in psychotherapy,
and has sought or found information about your therapist on the
Internet? If so, we would appreciate your taking the time to complete a survey.

Our names are Keely Kolmes and Dan Taube and we are licensed
psychologists who would like to request your participation in our
research on the effects of encountering your past or current
therapist’s information on the Internet. This study has been approved
by the Institutional Review Board of Alliant International University.

As a participant, you will be asked to complete an online survey
covering your basic demographic information and your experiences
regarding seeking or accidentally discovering information about your
therapist on the Internet. We expect the survey to take about 20 to 35
minutes to complete.

Your input may help therapists to better understand if and how this
information affects clients.

No names or personal information will be linked to the study and your
participation will be completely anonymous so long as you do not put
your name in your responses. If you should wish to contact the
researchers directly, your participation may become confidential
rather than anonymous, although your name will not be linked to any of
the data you submit.

To be eligible for the study, you must be 18 or older, currently in
psychotherapy, or have been in psychotherapy in the past, and have
encountered or sought information about your therapist on the Internet.

If you meet the above criteria and are interested in participating in
the study, you can access the survey at:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/finalclient

If you do not qualify for the study but you know others who might be
interested in participating, feel free to forward this notice or URL.

Thank you for your interest and participation.

Sincerely,

Keely Kolmes, Psy.D. drkkolmes@hushmail.com

Daniel Taube, Ph.D., J.D. dtaube@alliant.edu

When Your Holidays Aren’t So Happy

December 7, 2010

A few years ago one of my dear friends got some bad news.  It was a few weeks before Christmas and she was happily humming along to the holiday tunes she loved when the bad news hit her smack in the face.  I’m not going to get into details, but the news was devastating and life changing.  And ever since that early December evening, the holiday season has meant something different to her.  No longer is it unabashedly cheerful and grateful, rather it is a time for reflection, sadness, and regret.

During this time of year we are bombarded with the happiness of the holidays.  We can also find tips on managing holiday stress, coping with the dreaded office Christmas party, and dealing with irritating in-laws and unwanted gifts.  But it is more rare that we read about the sadness that the holiday season brings for many.  Those without families, those who have lost marriages, children, parents, or homes.  The reasons for holiday gloom are many – and more common than you might think.

So what can be done when your holidays aren’t happy and don’t look anything like those in the movies?

Give yourself a break. Even though Target, Hallmark, and Macy’s would have us believe that December is the most magical, meaningful time of the year, it doesn’t have to be so.  There’s no law saying you have to put up lights, decorate a tree, or even send out cards.  So make your own meaning and tradition.  June a better time for you? Go with it – and create traditions and memories around a time that works better for you.

Don’t fake it. Forcing yourself to go to every party, bake 12 dozen cookies, and smile until January 2nd will just make the season worse.  Feel like staying home and having a quiet night in? Do it.

The reason for the season. Whatever your religious preference, I think most can agree that the reason for the season is NOT excessive spending and swelling of consumer debt.  So whatever your beliefs, it may be helpful to focus on the spiritual side of December.

Seek help. If you’ve tried some of the ideas above as well as some of your own, and still can’t shake your sadness this season, consider seeking the help of a psychologist.  Often just a few sessions with an unbiased, caring, helpful professional can be enough to make the holidays manageable – and maybe someday enjoyable.

Photo by: LST1984

Teaching Our Kids Gratitude, One Birthday at a Time

December 2, 2010

 

The Gift Wagon

I was hanging out at a kid’s birthday party recently (yes, I do a lot of that and yes, they provide me with lots of blog material) when I spotted the above:  The Gift Wagon.  Literally a wagon with a handle and wheels about 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall.  As I tried surreptitiously to take a photo of the wagon, I thought about the complaints so many of us have made about our ungrateful kids. And I started wondering: Might we as parents be contributing to our children’s ungrateful hearts when we:

  • Treat every birthday as if it were a major milestone, and hold celebrations the scope of which were once reserved for sweet 16 parties?
  • Expect the 15 invitees to our 5 year old’s party to bring enough large presents to fill the gift wagon?
  • Provide each invitee with a party favor that costs more than a sweater?

So what can be done? Is there a way to break out of this birthday party madness that will keep our children happy and help us teach them to be grateful even when we don’t rent out the nearest funplex for them and 20 of their closest friends? Yes! I have seen quite a few families do some pretty creative things with birthdays, including:

  • Host birthday parties for their kids only every other or every third year.  On the off years have a small celebration with family.
  • In lieu of gifts, ask each invitee to bring a book and have a book exchange where each child goes home with a new book.
  • Ask invitees to bring a donation to a designated charity instead of a gift.
  • Host a “party” where the kids volunteer together for a charity (cleaning the animal shelter, serving at a soup kitchen, sorting cans at a food bank)
  • Keep it small and simple.  There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned, backyard party with cake and ice cream.  No clowns, no bouncy houses, no portable petting zoos.  You might be surprised at how well the kids can entertain themselves.

Have you had luck keeping your kids grateful? What did you do (or not do)?

 

Do My Husband and I Need Therapy?

November 29, 2010

I often get phone calls and emails asking me this question. My answer is usually something pretty vague like “well, what do you think?” To which I then get a description of the state of the marriage. Typically the caller is unhappy, not feeling heard and/or appreciated, sick of arguing, or the couple are struggling to overcome a breach of trust (an affair, pornography, financial problems, etc). So, how do couples know when it is time to seek the help of a professional?

You’ve read all the books. Often when couples come to me for therapy they have tried reading self-help books, gone to seminars, tried talking to each other, ignoring each other, and changing each other yet nothing has worked.

You’re looking outside your marriage for relief. Whether it’s complaining to your girlfriends about what a jerk your husband is, or looking online for a new partner – when folks start looking outside their marriage for happiness and fulfillment, it is usually a sign that there are problems.

Your other relationships and roles are suffering. I often hear women say that their relationship with their husband is so bad that it is affecting the way they parent, or their relationship with their friends, or their ability to concentrate at work.

You’re married. Marriage is hard. Kids are hard. Work is hard. Put it all together and it is a recipe for strain on even the most solid, loving marriages.

I think all couples can benefit from therapy at some point in their lives together. Maybe it’s after a baby is born, or after a lay-off, when someone decides to stay home with the kids, or when grandma moves in. Whenever the tough times might come (and they come for every relationship) it can be a relief to know that there is a way to get help.

Creative Gratitude, Part 3

November 26, 2010

I don’t like coffee much.  I can easily pass up Starbucks, forego making coffee at home, and steer clear of the pot in the office.  But one thing I do love, and am grateful for this week, is a cup when I am out to breakfast.  I don’t do it much (perhaps why I appreciate it so much?) but I love the faux – Fiestaware mugs, the tiny creamers, and the clink clink clink of my spoon going ’round.  I’m grateful for the waitresses who call me “hon” and who aren’t shy about topping off the mug.  So thanks fod breakfast joints and the waitresses who work there, thanks for 99 cent cups of coffee, and thanks for the folks who share a cup with me.