11/12/2012 01:09 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Holiday Relationship (Or Lack of Relationship) Challenges

When you think about the upcoming holidays, what feeling prevails?

1.) I look forward to the holidays as a time to get together with family and friends to share fun, love, gifts, caring and good food.

2.) The holidays are stressful for me because:

  • There are family members I don't want to be around.
  • The issue of having to buy gifts is anything but fun.
  • I worry about others' disapproval if things are not right and perfect.
  • I'm often alone and lonely over the holidays.
  • I have grief over the loss of a loved one from death, a divorce or a break-up.

3.) A combination of both. I enjoy some aspects of the holidays and other aspects are hard for me.

How to Stop Stressing Over the Holidays

While it might seem that all your stress is coming from the situation, this is not generally true. Likely, much of your stress is being caused by how you are dealing with the situation.

Right now, think about what your intent is for the holidays:

  • To have control over getting love and approval, and to avoid pain, or
  • To focus on what is loving to yourself and others

Stress is often the result of trying to control something you can't control. If you are trying to have control over how others feel about you and treat you, or if you are trying to have control over feelings of heartbreak over loss, then you will likely feel a lot of stress.

One of the things that can create stress over the holidays is confusion about the difference between getting love and sharing love. Too often, people believe that getting love or approval will make them feel good. They don't understand that it is really the act of sharing their love that is so fulfilling.

The question to ask yourself in any situation that feels stressful to you is this: "What would be most loving to me -- what would be in my highest good -- over the holidays?"

Let's take the above situations and see how you change them from stressful to peaceful:

There are family members I don't want to be around.

Families can be challenging. Can you focus on playing with children rather than spending time with the adults? Can you spend your time with the one or two people you do like, and remember that you have no control over those who are a problem for you? Can you spend the holidays with friends rather than family? Can you go away on a fun vacation instead of staying around for the holidays? What would be in your highest good?

The issue of having to buy gifts is anything but fun.

Gift-buying can be fun or stressful, depending on your intent. If you are telling yourself that you "have to" buy gifts to avoid disapproval, and they better be the "right" gifts, then you will likely feel resentful and resistant. If having control over approval, and resisting being controlled, is more important to you than loving yourself and others, then you will likely stay stressed.

Shifting your intention can make all the difference between stress and fun. If you are buying or making gifts for people you love, and you take the time to tune into what would bring you joy to give to them, then you will feel the deep fulfillment of sharing your love.

I worry about others' disapproval if things are not right or perfect.

Are you making others' approval or disapproval responsible for your sense of self-worth -- and then trying to control how they feel by having to do everything perfectly? This will cause you much stress.

Consider instead getting yourself off the hook by valuing yourself for wanting to create a lovely holiday for your loved ones, rather than attaching your value to approval.

What to Do If You Are Alone for the Holidays -- Staving Off Loneliness

Being alone over the holidays can be very challenging, especially if you recently lost a loved one. It is vital for you to be especially compassionate toward yourself and allow yourself to grieve your loss -- and then see what would be loving to yourself. Since it is sharing your love that fulfills, the question to ask yourself is, "How can I share my love in a way that brings me joy?" Below are some ideas:

  • Collect toys and food from store donations and friends, and bring them to homeless shelters and battered women's shelters. Spend time with them there, helping with the cooking and decorating. Share Thanksgiving and Christmas with them.
  • Spend time with people in nursing homes who have no family of their own. You will be far less lonely if you spend some time sharing your love with another lonely person.
  • Many churches and soup kitchens need help in serving food to the needy over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Consider volunteering.
  • Attend a holiday dinner, sponsored by your town or your church, temple or 12-step group. Go with the intent of offering your time, your attention, a listening ear, your smile and your understanding to another. Giving your caring to another is a fulfilling way of loving yourself.
  • Find a retreat center near you which is hosting a holiday event, and spend your time sharing your caring with others who are also alone for the holidays.

Remember, your intent to control and avoid -- or to love yourself and share your love with others -- is the main choice that can determine whether your holidays are stressful and lonely, or peaceful and fulfilling.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!

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