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Chanukah Survival Guide

Chanukah Survival Guide

Are you feeling a sense of dread at the looming approach of Chanukah?

We’ve had it drilled into us since childhood that the Yom Tov / Holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year!” But as a therapist, I have to wonder, particularly when I hear comments like:

I’m skipping the Chanukah this year!

I need some Xanax to get me through the holidays!

So there’s the Disney version of the Holidays – all wonder and delight – and then there’s the reality that sounds like:

I can’t take much more of this!

Somehow, family dynamics, unmanaged expectations, and preconceived notions about holidays, happiness, and parties make for a nasty combo that keeps triggering us year after year.

Clearly, though, no one’s giving up on Chanukah anytime soon. So how can we save Chanukah and learn to have a good time, without suffering an emotional hangover?

Try this Chanukah Survival Guide:

1. Time Out

Whether you’re going to be at a family member’s home or a public venue, scout out the premises and find a place you can escape to, even if only for a few moments. In that space, find somewhere to sit, practice deep breathing, let your mind drift to a safe place where you feel happiest. Anchor yourself to that place through your senses – the scents, sounds, sensations, and sights that bring this place to life for you. Suck on a candy and imagine it’s a tropical drink. Do this until you feel the tension subside.

2. Get Busy

Family arguing politics again? Or exchanging catty remarks about who bought the nicest hostess gifts? Take a walk, wash dishes, pull out your knitting! Become a curious, amused observer, and practice how this is all going to sound in your next blog article or YouTube video ~ The fiasco of a Chanukah Gathering.

3. Shake Off the Fairy Dust

Of course Holidays always seemed special when you were a child, of course it would be great if you could recapture that with just the right table setting, the perfect menu, or the sparkliest mood, but the reality is, the more you yearn for something to be a certain way, the less likely you are to actually get it. So manage your expectations. Set preconceived notions aside, and try to enjoy what’s actually going on by being in the moment.

4. Consequential Thinking

If you’re afraid of exploding with anger, or drinking too much to block it all out, or falling prey to any number of bad habits, try this experiment. Play out the consequences of what will happen if you do explode: shrieking, spilt drinks, kids crying, hurt feelings, blame, shame, etc. Then ask yourself whether the satisfaction of a 15-second vent is worth the mess – emotional and physical mess – you’ll have to clean up afterwards.

5. Get Out of Character

The typical way in which we’ve grown accustomed to interacting with our families, aka, family dynamics, has a lot to do with how we’re going to feel over the Holidays. Virginia Satir, a key figure in Family Therapy, pioneered the idea of family roles people tend to adopt- or their families tend to impose on them – as a way to balance family tensions and maintain functioning.

For example, the distractor shakes things up to divert attention from emotional issues, and the placater, or people pleaser, will keep apologizing and trying to smooth over upsets, both a perfect counterpoint to the blamer, who constantly finds fault and criticizes. And family dynamics being what they are, no matter how many miles and years you’ve traveled from your families of origin, when you return to that environment, there is a magnetic energy that seems to pull you back into that role.

So forewarned is forearmed: get out of character! Resist the seductive urge to surrender! Smile at the provoking remark that usually gets a rise out of you. Make your way to the kitchen to help out. But whatever you do – don’t cave! Which brings me to my final item of my Chanukah Survival Guide.

6. Boundaries, Baby

If you can pull it off, try this:

I’m not comfortable with your questions, and would prefer not to answer any more of them.

Do it with a smile, and unless you’re dealing with a crowd or certain someone who’s really far gone, you might be met with shocked compliance! If you get judgment and shouting instead, go back to step 1.

7. Break it Up

Chanukah is 8 days long. Who says you have to rejoice with family all the time? Break it up. Arrange to be with family for at least a day, but then reserve the right to have other plans. Make those plans before the Holidays so you’re not stuck having to make excuses closer to the date. Make the boundary clear with a smile, and stick to it. If you’re unsure how to do this – or afraid of the fallout -see step 6.

Throughout all this – expect some trial and error, and remember that you are enough!

Happy Chanukah Everyone!

For more on this topic:

8 Ways to Say NO to the Chanukah Blues 

8 Steps to a Binge and Guilt Free Chanukah

Managing Expectations for the Holidays

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Rivkah Kaufman

At the beginning of my career, I spent over 10 years working as a high school yeshiva teacher of English. After I obtained my BA in English and Psychology from Brooklyn College in 2000, I moved to the corporate sector for 7 years, working in benefits communication, and then went back to school for an MA in General Psychology at the New School for Social Research in 2005, followed by an MS.Ed in Mental Health Counseling at Hunter College in 2011. Since obtaining my licensure in 2013, I've worked with clients from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and experiences, including Jewish clients, in both clinics and private practice. Currently, I am the owner of RK Connections, my private practice, which is based in Brooklyn Heights.

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