Holiday Price Tag: What Are the Holidays Actually Costing You? 

From your finances to your health, the season can take its toll

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In the Heart

Of course, the need to spend may not come only from the need to buy things.

The emotional weight of the holidays can't be underestimated. For some, it's one giant guilt fest, while for others the pressure to make this holiday season as great as the last can be daunting. Even more frequently, when friends and family gather, it can mean the reawakening of what we thought were buried feelings.

Daniel Timberlake, psychologist and director of counseling services at Boise State admits that the holidays are the subject of much discussion and research in psychiatric circles. Much of the recent work centers on the idea of how people create associations through early attachments and relationships.

Basically the theories boil down to the idea that the earliest attachments we make are some of the strongest, and they train our brain to associate a certain person or situation with a specific emotion. That could explain why, when we gather with family even as usually rational adults, we find ourselves acting like children.

"Early important relationships and the nature of attachment sets up neural associations in our brain that we take with us forever," Timberlake said. "[It's] some pretty insightful research based in brain science that explains how we react to these people who are supposed to be the most important people in the world--the more important they are, the more associations they can create.

"We're not as logical as we like to think," he said. "Look at your family environment and you'll see the roots of the relationships ... Our most powerful and early triggers are our family members. We go back there and they have the ability to trigger those old emotions."

Timberlake said many things can trigger those memories: a look, an eye roll, family politics.

"When you're a child, and you store the feelings associated [with childhood], people can feel a little more childlike as an adult. It's upsetting and disconcerting. Those are the pieces we don't like," he said.

Of course those associations don't have to be negative, they can be reminders of security, safety, warmth, joy and love.

"That's why we keep going back," Timberlake said.

So, how do you make it through the holidays without reenacting one of your great sibling battles or yelling at your mother that it's your life and you'll date whomever you want?

Recognizing your emotional reaction and realizing what triggers it is a start. From there, Timberlake said, you can start taking the power out of those early associations and accepting people for who they are.

"The goal of perfection is a mistake," he said, adding that no relationship is going to be without its negative points. But if you have five good reactions for every not-so-pleasant one, you're doing pretty good.

"We learn to accept people, and that's what true love is," Timberlake said. "They're not perfect, and we can tolerate the 20 percent of the time when they really piss us off."

Also, give others a little leeway.

"It's not about me and my expectations," he said. "Have realistic expectations. Your family probably hasn't changed since the last time you saw them."

The key, he said, is finding balance. Be connected, but not codependent, be an individual but stay open to others.

"Don't let others dictate how you're going to react," Timberlake said. "Ask before you react, it's a powerful skill."

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