Q: I hate this time of year at work. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, my co-workers seem stressed, and I end up having to socialize...

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Q: I hate this time of year at work. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, my co-workers seem stressed, and I end up having to socialize at boring office parties. Aren’t the holidays supposed to be fun?

A: Ghosts of holidays past often haunt people this time of year. Despite the mythology our culture supports about everyone having a magical Hallmark-style holiday season, you are far from alone in disliking this time of year.

Many people do not have happy childhood memories of the holiday season.

Relatives may have drank heavily or been worried about money, or parents may have divorced. These painful memories are often triggered every year, causing people to feel stressed.

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For the most part, adults don’t connect their pasts with the present, so people just feel upset without understanding why.

In addition, people often feel pressured to perform superhuman feats during the holidays: work their normal jobs, buy perfect presents for everyone (without going into debt), throw amazing parties, see all the relatives and be full of good cheer. It’s enough to depress anyone.

If you’d prefer to enjoy the holidays, these techniques will work wonders:

Ask yourself what’s happened in your life during November and December. Be aware of anniversary reactions so you can predict and prepare for any grief, anger or anxiety you may experience.

Be realistic about what you can do. Practice saying no when too many demands stack up.

Imagine how you’d spend your holidays if you weren’t concerned about pleasing everyone else. Then ask yourself how you could negotiate to create exactly this scenario.

For instance, many years ago I told family members I wanted to stop trading Christmas presents. I was amazed to discover everyone was relieved and agreed immediately.

Sometimes reality makes us miserable, and sometimes our ideas about reality make us miserable.

The best gift you may give yourself this year is to forget your old myths about this season. Try redefining the holidays so they work for you.

The last word(s)

Q: Do you have to buy presents for co-workers?

A: No.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube