Your Health

When the holidays are on top of us

Holiday Hoopla
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While retailers promote the holiday season as a time to buy presents and decorations, it’s important not to be overwhelmed by a to-do list. Focus instead, advises Los Altos marriage and family therapist Nancy Andersen, on connection and self-care.

The holiday season is upon us. While it can be a joyous time of year, for some the holidays feel like an elephant on the chest or a knot in the stomach.

Presents! Gotta get, gotta have presents. Christmas cards and decorations, too. Don’t forget planning meals. Maybe there are some relatives you don’t really want to see or a holiday party conversation you dread. We’ve all heard that the holiday season can be a time of stress and/or depression for many. It’s no “ho ho ho” when we’re slumping or worried.

We’re often asked, “What would you like for a present this year?” We may rack our brains, or maybe it’s obvious. It might be that cashmere sweater or a new purse or wallet. But many of us don’t even think to say to ourselves, “What I really want is to be happier. I don’t need another gadget or item of clothing. I’m so tired of being unhappy.”

What would more happiness look like? It could look like a lot of things, but the one thing that is generally No. 1 for those suffering is more love, more connection. Because there is no escaping the fact that without enough love or connection, people are unhappy. We sometimes say that the only thing you can count on in life is death and taxes. But we could just as well say the only thing you can count on in life is the need to be loved.

Overcoming addiction

And what happens frequently when that deep human connection is wanting now or when we were very young? Addiction happens. We try to shield ourselves from the pain, the pain that surfaces with quiet self-reflection. Addiction can be with substances like drugs or alcohol, but it can just as well be with our smartphones, computer games, gambling, work, shopping, eating, cooking, pornography, TV, hobbies, exercise and even yoga. Yes, even yoga! Any activity or substance that we engage with excessively to paper over our feelings of emptiness is an addiction. Many of us don’t even know we’re addicted, and in fact it turns out that a lot of us, to some degree, are addicted.

What to do about your own addiction? The first step, as alluded to, is quiet self-reflection. Just that step can be tough. I’m asking everyone who is reading this to find 10 minutes today to sit without distraction and reflect on their life and activities.

If you find that the holiday gifts you are longing for are happiness and peace, then clearly you need more love and connection. This is a couples column, and nothing impacts us more than our partner, so our relationship is often of greatest concern. But this human need isn’t limited to our romantic relationships.

Asking for more

If you need more love and connection, can you snap your fingers and make it happen? Can you say to your spouse or partner, “I need more love from you, more affection”? Well, you could, though best to say it in a soft and not demanding way. There’s nothing wrong with verbalizing our needs. That’s much better than holding it in and expecting our partners to read our minds.

But the No. 1 thing you can do is practice loving-kindness and generosity of spirit. You can’t make someone else love you or want you more or be more affectionate or more thoughtful toward you. But you absolutely can work at loving them better, showing how much you care. Think of your partner, think of other people. Just give of yourself, if only your patience, a charitable interpretation when they are unkind or inconsiderate. You can do this every day. The connection you long for is bound to grow and you’ll feel better about yourself, too.

By the way, spending time loving and caring for others is not an addiction, because it is not hiding from our pain. What a great gift to the world and to yourself. Because you are connected.

Nancy Andersen, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides counseling for couples and individuals in her Loyola Corners office in Los Altos. For more information, call 833-9574 or visit

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