Power and Joy

This article is adapted from Mark Gorkin, “The Stress Doc.” Dr. Gorkin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader and author on stress, reorganizational change, anger, team building, creativity and humor.  To read his original article, click here.


I want to talk a bit about what I call “the split,” the sense that we anticipate the holidays with excitement but also a little bit of dread, that there are foods that we love but we don’t really want to have too much of them. We know that we don’t feel great when we do, and it doesn’t really work out well in the long run.


There are parties and social gatherings and events that we are excited and anxious to participate in but that we also have a sense of almost a “runaway train,” like something where we don’t feel that we have the control that we might need, where we go in with the best intentions but somehow leave feeling “Oh, why did I eat all that?”

It’s the same with exchanging gifts: excited to share, thinking about things that people might really love, but then having reservations about just being so busy buying, shopping, wrapping, and certainly concerns about overspending as well. And there are people that we really look forward to seeing, but sometimes we know that we’re going to wind up spending time with people that are difficult for us to be with that might bring up conflicts or issues that are just not very comfortable.

So what if it was different? What if we could go through the holidays in a way that served us, that we loved and that just worked? Again, one of the tenets that I come back to over and again is this belief that you can care for yourself as well as you care for others, and what an amazing concept for so many people who I work with to remember.

I see so many people who are great at managing at everything and everyone; generous, accomplished, powerful people, but people who, when it comes to giving themselves simple pleasures, simple time to relax, simple time to restore, and setting limits and boundaries that are appropriate and comfortable, feel like there’s just nothing left for them. I’d like to explore some ways to anticipate and avoid some of the major sources of holiday stress.

There is a great article that was written by a man named Mark Gorkin. He is a social worker and he calls himself “The Stress Doc”. He describes the four F’s of holiday friction, and these really are four areas that I think cover a big wide range of the situations and the challenges that we find ourselves in.

So the first he talks about is fantasies. If you imagine, there’s an old saying that says if it’s difficult to get along with your family or with people who you are spending time with all through the year, then it might not be any different during the holidays.

I think that a lot of us have images of an idyllic holiday. We know exactly how it should be. We imagine how we will feel and how everyone will respond.  Maybe we have memories of holidays past. It’s good to take the pressure off, to just take a step back and come into present time and imagine what this holiday really might be for you right now. Because the stronger your expectations, the more likely you are sometimes to be disappointed or kind of tripped up a little bit.

The other notion about fantasies is that it’s supposed to look a certain way, that if you were a really good mother, the house would be decorated more elaborately. Maybe that’s the way your parents did it and you feel like you haven’t quite measured up. Yet, what an opportunity it is to really decide what is simple and elegant and serves you and what is enough. This concept of enough is something that’s come up for me a lot lately. It’s really two-fold. I’ve always imagined saying it’s enough as being maybe not quite apologetic, but like I’m asking for permission, reminding myself that it’s enough and I’m enough. It helps to remember that there’s enough time, enough energy, enough money. But there’s another side of enough that just says, “Enough! That’s enough. I don’t want anymore. I don’t want that right now.”

It’s a perfect opportunity is to notice your expectations, notice your fantasies, and then do your best to really honor your personal needs, your values, your limits and create  celebrations that are fitting for you right now.

So the first of the four F’s is fantasies. The second is family. Of course, there’s lots of logistics, planning travel so that it’s at least not too difficult. So many more challenges with blended families and who spends time with who and really wanting to see everyone and just feeling sometimes so overwhelmed or exhausted. These all overlap.

The main thing, again, is to not to have totally unrealistic expectations of how you will get along with people who you may have been challenged getting along with in the past and also to be comfortable, gracious and generous. Sometimes it’s hard to spend as much time as you might like with everybody, so it makes sense to plan your connections, your contacts so that they’re meaningful and as stress-free as possible.

The third source of potential friction is food and this certainly overlaps with family. When people get together with their family, there is both people making traditional food and foods you may look forward to all year. Then there are so many people encouraging you to eat this and eat that, “Oh, I made it just for you. It’s special. It’s just this one time.” In fact, I actually have a button. If you want it you can call the office and we’ll send you one. It says “if you love me, don’t feed me”. Ideally, a simple no thank you will suffice, but sometimes people need a reminder.

If you’re a little older you may remember a time when if someone went to a party and they refuse to drink, people would always push them. “Have a drink. Don’t be a spoilsport. Live it up a little. Come on, have a drink.” And now I think people will tend to recognize that you might be driving or you might be in recovery and you can say no once is enough.

But with food, I’d like to create that same mindset, the same awareness that if somebody offers you something once and you say, “No, thanks, that’s enough,” that they aren’t always pushing you, encouraging you, pushing you. I mean it’s not that hard to say no the first time, but after the fourth or fifth time that somebody puts something particularly tempting in front of you, it is just that more difficult to say no.

There’s a little exercise and there’s another download that I’ve made for you. It’s actually called the No Exercise. It’s a little sheet of paper again that you can put and it’s it just has a bunch of no’s that you can use.

One question that’s come up repeatedly is “How do you refuse food graciously without compromising yourself?”  Saying no creatively is an art form in itself. I know just in talking to patients, I’ve heard some pretty interesting answers. I think it’s also just another opportunity to think these things through a little bit in advance and make a plan. It’s sometimes just that willingness to say, “No, thank you. No, I don’t think so. Not right now.”

Just the other day, one of my patients mentioned a time when she was being cajoled the third or fourth time to try a dish that really just wasn’t that interesting to her.  So she took a little bit and that person, of course, kept pushing, “Is that all? It’s such a little portion.” She replied, “Oh, there are so many good things to try. I can come back for more later.” It was just a very gracious way to accept the invitation but on their own terms.

The fourth potential source of friction is finances. People will hopefully be comfortable spending what they can comfortably spend. And remember, of course, that the holidays are really a time for sharing. There are more and more families that pick one person each so that you can buy a nicer present for just that person rather than having to buy something for every single person in the group.

I think over and over again it will come back to the theme of being honest with yourself, coming into the present time, celebrating in a way that really represents you instead of pulling you off guard and off your center or compromising you in some way. Interestingly, the more you take care of yourself in these ways, the more you will find yourself able to navigate through the holidays with power and joy.

Remember to party like a person who weighs what you want to weigh.


Special times require special skills:

  • Family visits present special challenges
  • Cruises
  • Reverting to childhood and the old ways
  • Family stress
  • And the opportunity to indulge in old favorites and long standing routines.


Most of the skills mentioned in this article apply. For me, being prepared mentally and physically seems to be the most helpful. When I imagine a great vacation full of love and relaxed laughter, I usually get blindsided. When I recognize there will be fulfilling parts along with the challenges, I’m likely to have a much better time and definitely take better care of myself.


These additional ideas and activities help, too.

  • Take a walk. Remember to include time for yourself or with a favorite friend or relative. It helps not to be swept up in the general activities.
  • Be gentle with yourself.


“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”


Cruises present a particular kind of challenge and they seem to be more popular every year. At the same time, they present an opportunity to care for yourself and have a great time, too. For some reason, they have become associated with massive, constant supplies of food. How do you prepare for that? Here are some suggestions that have helped many people who, like you, want to maintain a sense of control and good health: If there are 2 seatings, ask for the early seating (this is from several cruise goers and it does seem to make a difference). Stay on track with regular protein, even having a small snack before a meal. Choose the meals that are special to indulge in and eat modestly during the other meals.


Walk a lot, laugh a lot, relax a lot. Look for more ways to be happy and healthy.


You can be Happy and Healthy,

Dr. Gail Alschuler

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