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Managing Holiday Stress at Family Gatherings


Do holiday family gatherings stir up feelings of excitement and dread at the same time? Do you feel a little thrown off your game as your visit gets underway? Maybe you’re like the golfer in this story. Stick with me here — it relates back to holiday stress, I promise:

There’s an old joke about a golfer who meets up with a friend to play a round of nine. The friend is not a good player, so he asks for two “gotchas” to help even the game.

The golfer says, “You mean two ‘gimmies'” — two shots that are not actually played, but that count like they went into the hole. “Sure,” the golfer agrees.

By the third hole, the golfer is several strokes ahead of his friend. As he leans over to make a difficult putt, the friend suddenly jabs him under the ribs and yells “Gotcha!”

The golfer nearly jumps out of his shoes. Deeply shaken, he barely manages to finish the round. His friend wins easily. One of the golfer’s buddies, watching from a distance, is surprised that the game took such a turn.

“What happened?” the buddy asks.

“Well,” said the golfer, “I agreed to two ‘gotchas’ and the first one scared the living daylights out of me. How well would you play if you were waiting for the second ‘gotcha?'”

Sometimes, joining family celebrations can find us feeling like this golfer. We want to be part of the fun, but we grow more anxious and edgy the closer the time comes to join our crowd. Will we be okay, or caught up worrying that something unpleasant will happen?

You may have every intention to celebrate, but something inside you is bracing for some half-hidden, unwelcome surprise to catch you off guard. Maybe part of you recalls family experiences that stung, or left you shaken and jarred.

Of course it will be hard to relax, if part of you is waiting for the next zinger to take you by surprise. Even if the “second gotcha” never comes, your body still remembers earlier ones. This makes it challenging to relax and take in the good experiences you want to enjoy.

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