Are some of your family members and friends freaking out this holiday season?

This is supposed to be the wonderful time of the year, but many people seem to go a bit over the edge and lose it around Christmas and New Year's.

According to Deborah Carr, a Rutgers University sociology professor, family tensions tend to be high during this month for a variety of reasons.

“The holidays actually bring people together from throughout the country — family members who haven’t seen each other. So just simply being in physical proximity is one influence,” she said.

“When people are all together for holidays they might drink alcohol, and that’s something that might kick people into being a little bit more loose than they would otherwise be.”

She also noted many people are under a lot of stress at this time of year.

“Being able to afford gifts, feeling like one has to keep up with the Joneses and buying really lavish gifts that perhaps they can’t afford, the pressures of preparing a meal, of cleaning one's house, the time pressures that go with the holidays ... road rage, having to drive long distances or fly long distances — these all produce stress,” she said

Failed expectations may also cause tensions to boil over into fights and arguments.

“We have very lovely visions of what our holidays will be like, the lovely gifts we’ll get. And reality often doesn’t live up to those expectations,” said Carr.

She said many of the commercials we’re being bombarded with on television paint a glorified version of reality.

“A family has a Mercedes gift wrapped with a red bow sitting on their front lawn, but in reality very few families can afford that. Also, holiday time is a time when people can feel like a failure for not being able to afford all the gifts their children want,” she said.

Carr added those TV ads “might make you feel like your marriage is really troubled if you realize you’re not as lovey-dovey as the couple in the commercials.”

Another tension trigger can be receiving what you perceive to be a bad gift from someone.

“Really, it’s not a bad gift; it’s a gift that’s bad because it looks like the gift giver doesn’t know who you are and that can be really painful,” she said.

According to Patty Sly, the executive director of Jersey Battered Women’s Service, there are not more domestic violence criminal reports during the holidays, “but we definitely have high helpline call volume.”

She says many individuals in domestic violence situations may experience added stress during the holidays but they will wait until after the holidays to take action.

She says reaching out for help is very important because when someone leaves a domestic abuse situation that’s the most dangerous time in the relationship, the time when the most assaults and homicides happen.

Contact reporter David Matthau at


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