Holidays bring joy, but they often bring stress, too. Economic stress and stress related to travel make the Christmas list, but my patients tell me that the greatest stress that comes with Christmas and the New Year is relationship stress. Holidays bring us into closer contact with relatives and friends with whom we might otherwise choose to have very limited interactions. Unresolved conflicts with brothers and sisters can play in the background of handshakes and toasts. That constantly critical step-parent might be around you the whole day. A gift is unwrapped that reminds you again that a friend just "doesn't get you" or has never been nearly as generous as you are.
What's the best way to cope? The key can be uncovered in the very spirit of Christmas itself. Christmas is about God's love for mankind. And it is, therefore, about our love and generosity. It is about giving to others.
So I recommend that you let yourself take a holiday from hurt. Tell yourself that this Christmas through New Year's Eve is your vacation from trying to right the wrongs of the past or dwelling on injuries you suffered due to the shortcomings of others. We all have these injuries in greater or (blessedly) lesser measure, and they have to be recognized at some point in order to heal them, but for nine days from December 24 through January 1, I prescribe being the healer.
What does being the healer mean? It means extending yourself to others in a way that makes them feel comforted and valued. It means giving them the benefit of the doubt by seeing them as doing the best they can in relationships, even if they don't do very well. It means listening to what is going on in their lives and offering support and encouragement, rather than pointed advice or any judgment. It means being focused almost entirely on improving their holidays than on proving anything about yourself during the holidays.
Here are a few pointers about being what I call a holiday healer:
1) Being a holiday healer only happens when you decideto be one. Human beings want to be heard, so being a therapeutic listener is actually work. It requires intention.
2) Being a holiday healer can be a little lonely. This is because healing takes place from a bit of a distance. It's less about an exchange of feelings than it is about letting yourself feel the happiness or stress or hypocrisy of others and gently nudging others in the direction of the best inside them.
3) Being a holiday healer is worth it. The gifts people actually remember are little gifts of time or kindness or forgiveness. You can give these very powerful gifts, and they will empower you ten-fold.
4) Being a holiday healer is contagious. You may not believe me, but people respond to healing by becoming healers themselves. It's a miracle called human empathy, and it's the best evidence for the existence of God that I've seen in the world.
If you decide to be a holiday healer, be very aware of the reactions of those around you. You'll notice that people gravitate toward you and that you feel just a little lighter on your feet, a little freer to see the best in people and a little more likely to see the best in yourself.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.