“This Holiday Season Think ‘NOEL’ to Manage Family Stress” suggests Elizabeth Scarlett of Sounding Board Counselling Services

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Holiday time usually means time with family. Elizabeth Scarlett of Sounding Board Counselling Services suggests ways to best manage family interactions using the acronym “NOEL.”

Sounding Board Counselling Services

Focus on what is most important and the rest will take care of itself.

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‘Tis the season to be...at each other’s throats? That’s what it feels like sometimes. For many, the holiday season and subsequent family gatherings can be stressful. How can one manage time with family in the best way possible? Need reminders to get through? Think NOEL.

N---Name and Keep Boundaries. There is so much to do during the holiday season, and it's easy to take on too much. Family members can sometimes be very effective at pulling the guilt strings, resulting in an overload of responsibilities. Vocalize boundaries and be a broken record if needed (ex: “I'm bringing dessert to the party as we discussed. I am not going to bring appetizers as well"). Don’t be afraid to say it multiple times, if needed.

O--Offer Appreciation. At times this means to consider the intent, not just the result. Aunt Trudy worked hard to make the fruitcake. Even if you don’t see fruitcake as a holiday treat, thank her and wash it down with a large glass of milk. Focus on the positive qualities of family members rather than their faults. Maybe Dad's jokes are awful (even inappropriate at times) but he sure knows how to pick the perfect Christmas tree. Make note of the tree, and let the jokes slide.

E---Evaluate Expectations. It's easy to get caught up in the media hype and portrayal of family holiday bliss. Reality often looks quite different. If Mom has served dry turkey for the past 20 years, guess what? It will probably be dry this year too. A sibling always buys everyone pajamas that are three sizes too large? Don't expect this year to get that bracelet you've been hinting about from them. Also, look at self expectations. People are often hardest on themselves. Focus on what is most important and the rest will take care of itself.

L---Let Go of the Past. Probably the most stressful aspect of family visits is the long history that family holds. Maybe it’s a yearly tradition to tell that story of the time a certain family member almost burned the house down by using real candles on the Christmas tree. Or one may have some trouble forgiving a relative who initiated past conflict. Or be reminded of losses that happened around this time of year. As difficult as it is, try to stay in the present (no pun intended).

These are just some of the elements that can make family time at the holidays a bit more bearable. When in doubt, consider the fact that many people do not have contact with their families at all, and would welcome a dry turkey or embarrassing story. Or, there’s always the option of starting a new tradition of Christmas in Tahiti. Alone.

Live in the Toronto or Hamilton, Ontario area and feeling stressed out? Contact Sounding Board Counselling Services at soundingboardonline.com to schedule an appointment with a counsellor.

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Thomson Scarlett
@SBCSTherapy
since: 01/2014
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Sounding Board Counselling Services
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