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Down Darby Lane

Rx for Seasonal Stress Disorder

For many of us in the western world and beyond, it's the holiday season. A time that's idealized in the stories we tell about our lives. A time of expectations. Happiness, generosity, peace. Love. But there's also dual reality in play – our traditional holidays commonly include stress, tense family relationships, pressure, work. A bevy of contradictions.

For lots of people, the prospect of gathering with family includes gearing up to endure behavior that we find hurtful – like the mom that needles you about when you plan to settle down and get married. The uncle who's usually drunk before the main course is served, the sister who asks if you've gained weight – you get my drift. And there is abundant research that shows lots of people would much prefer time with friends rather than with family. There are rational reasons for this.

Studies show that friendships and families exert significant positive and/or negative effects on people – impacting health and well-being. But after tracking the data of thousands of participants over the span of many years, researchers found that friends often bring more contented feelings than do family interactions – especially during the holidays.

Friends play a unique role in providing us with approval, acceptance of who we are. The relationship is unlike the neverending desire to win a parent's approval or for family members to accept each other for who they are. Family relationships present far more complexities than do friendships that are based on mutual interests, acceptance, and values. Of course, friendships are a choice when family is not.

Friends also provide long-term benefits. Numerous studies show that friendships even impact health and longevity. An international survey of 300,000 people and another of 70,000 people over the age of 50 with active friendships showed a significant reduction in ailments like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Family relationships, however, did not show a similar impact on health.

You might guess that I'm writing about this because I'm facing a family holiday quandary – and you'd be right. I'm facing a Christmas get-together that promises to be anything but 'Merry.' It sent me to consult Professor Google to learn what the experts were saying about family holiday anxiety. And after working to adopt the most general sage advice about how to not dread certain family encounters – (including admitting I can't change another person's mind or perception, no matter how wrong it is), I found this frivolous and appealing approach from Martha Beck, PhD, sociologist and author, who wrote on 'unmerry Christmas' topic for Oprah Magazine. She suggests ways to find some fun in family holiday events that are wrapped in anxiety.

She calls this one "Dysfunctional Family Bingo": Prior to the annual family gathering, meet with friends and give each one a bingo card. Instruct them to fill in each bingo blank with a dysfunctional action you anticipate, ie. "My sister will ask if I'm experiencing some hair loss," Or my dad will remind me that with my degree in economics, I had a chance to make some real money before I started teaching kindergarten." At the event, check each square you've correctly predicted. When you have a Bingo – text or call the other players and claim victory! You might even offer a special booby prize for the winner. Talk about rewarding negative behavior!

Here's a take-off on a show only grandparent-age people will recognize – Queen for a Day. It's an old TV program in which contestants (women) told the details of their miserable lives, with the most compellingly sad story being rewarded with wonderful, life-changing gifts. Meet your friends for a post-holiday lunch and take turns telling the dramatic story of your family holiday gathering – the most pitiful story is rewarded with the others paying for the winner's meal, drink, or therapy session.

This frivolous approach to holiday survival is, of course, sad. Many of us grew up with the expectation of family being the core of lifetime closeness and contentment. But far too often, that stereotype just isn't personal reality. However, these silly 'survival tips' send a message – one way to get through an anxious experience is to engage your sense of humor.

It's important to be aware that friendships have value far beyond simply being warm-blooded company. Professor William Chopik, author and researcher in social psychology, says pals offer perks that family does not - including better health outcomes and feelings of worth.

A study involving over 300,000 indicates that people with ongoing social relationships experience better health – including a longer lifespan than those without lasting friendships. Friends accept us for who we are now, without memories or judgment, and that helps us avoid some pitfalls of family gatherings.

Experts also advise a few strategies to get through annual fear of holiday family gatherings. First, try to disconnect from reacting to behaviors that have nothing to do with you. Consciously find common ground and avoid taking the bait that invites disagreement. Plan ahead to recognize and avoid 'triggers, ask questions – be a listener. Step back and allow yourself to simply observe without judgment.

I hope you're among the fortunate families who celebrate together in ways we imagine as ideal – laughter, hugs, warmth, generosity, and everyone chipping in to clean up the mess. (That last item is probably too much to ask). But for the rest of us – remember, friends are powerful tonic, and humor protects and heals.


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As I write this, I'm rushing to finish because we fully expect to lose power any minute due to a mega storm that's descended on our mountain village. Quite an event to kick off the season! Thanks so much for reading my rants. I appreciate hearing from you and knowing that you exist somewhere in this diverse, interesting, dynamic world.



This week's opportunity to download a FREE Cozy MYSTERY novel is only a click away! My very highly rated book "The Song of Jackass Creek" is among the selections. It's a great season to cozy up with a book - and free is even better! 'GET YOURS HERE!



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Friends and Readers,

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Sample Amazon Reviews

This is an excellent writer!

Darby Patterson is truly a talented writer. She describes this little town sweetly without boring the reader with unimportant detail, and her descriptions are vivid. She also develops her characters fully through conversation and action so the reader becomes acquainted with the main players and can form pictures of them early in the book. Her characters' thoughts, interactions, and past activities combine to portray the culture of Redbud throughout the story, and the story itself is creative and holds surprises along the way. I too hope Ms Patterson continues to share her talents with us!

Sondra Jensen

Awaiting the next installment

An invitation to linger in this vanishing part of California which has so much history is writ on every page of this book. I've visited places like Redbud with a creek burbling in the background as gentle breezes sough through the pines and cedars. I've found them quaint and rich with fascinating local lore and history. Jesse, as publisher of the local weekly is very nicely sketched, the authors background as a journalist comes through clean and clear in developing him. This small California mining and logging town scrabbling to hang on, I liked very much as a setting. I wouldn't mind sitting down with Jesse and having a beer and help him solve his next mystery. The test of a good book is whether you'd be willing to read it again, later. This book passes that test and I can't wait for the next installment.

Jack Howard

 

Please let this be the first of a series!

Wonderful book; adult without being ‘R’ rated, complex story and well developed characters. The people of ‘Redbud’ ring true and, as a native Californian, the lumber, real estate and politics are spot on. I hope this is the beginning of a series because the author has created characters you want to know better.

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