How to Avoid the 'Demons' of Summer

Tips for keeping your cool when obnoxious behavior tries to ruin your summer fun.

From the WebMD Archives

We're all familiar with friends or relatives who can ruin the best summer plans with bouts of rude or overbearing behavior: the "bridezilla" who destroys anyone who gets in the way of her perfect summer wedding; the in-laws who announce they'll be coming for a visit -- for July and August; or the bully at the public swimming pool who insists on trying to drown your son.

These summer demons seem determined to throw a serious wrench in your summer fun. But before you throw in the beach towel and put away the suntan lotion, check out WebMD's summer-saving tips on managing some of the worst offenders of the hot-weather season.

The Bridezilla

She's getting married at the end of June and she's going to have the wedding day of her dreams. And anyone who is crazy enough to get in her way will suffer the wrath of the bridezilla.

"The bridezilla is a perfectionist, self-absorbed nightmare of a person," says Allison Moir-Smith, author of Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the "Happiest" Time of Her Life. "It's someone whose behavior is completely out of character, but there is so much going on in her life, what she doesn't know is that she's attaching all of her stress and feeling and angst to the wedding itself."

The bridezilla, Moir-Smith explains, is undergoing a tremendous period of flux in her life. She's going from girlfriend to wife, daughter to daughter-in-law, single and care-free to married with responsibilities --forever. And all the stress she is feeling is funneled right into the wedding day.

Avoiding a Wedding Meltdown

Rather than obsessing over how the napkins are folded and floral centerpieces arranged, help her remember that it's not the wedding that is important -- it's the marriage. Here are tips to help her exorcise the bridezilla demon:

  • "She should choose 5 things that are essential for her to have in their wedding," says Moir-Smith. "For everyone that list will be different. Maybe it's the musicians, the dress, or the cake. Then let go of the rest and enjoy the day.
  • "Let the wedding have its own soul," Moir-Smith tells WebMD. "She shouldn't try to control every detail that she can't predict or plan for.
  • "Help her work through her feelings and accept them. She is going through a powerful and profound change, and once she realizes that, it helps make all the wedding stress relative," says Moir-Smith.
  • "A good friend can help the bride by not complaining about the bridesmaid dress," says Moir-Smith. "It's more effective and helpful to talk to the bride about her feelings, and changes in her life."

With the bridezilla demons under control, at least until the DJ calls to cancel a week before the wedding, her friends can get back to enjoying their summer.

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The In-Laws

They're descending; the buffer zone is shrinking by the moment as you feel the in-laws closing in.

"Relationships with in-laws are tricky because they form a triangle," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in family therapy. "It's you, your spouse, and the parents. There tends to be competition for love, attention, approval -- and when there are conflicts, usually the parents are asked to pick. And that is a sticky situation."

"Conflicts" being the operative word, especially when you are trying to enjoy your summer and the in-laws announce they'll be visiting for a long time.

"Most families are better off to avoid extended stays unless those stays are in hotels," Berman tells WebMD. "It tends to increase the tension until things get to the boiling point and then it gets ugly. I recommend suggesting a one-week stay."

How do you tactfully tell your in-laws that the Marriott down the street has great rates? Start with a united front.

"Talk to your spouse first," says Berman. "Approach it as: 'I want to have the best possible relationship with your parents, but we need boundaries.' Then you can talk to your in-laws and say, 'We would love to have you visit from this date to that date; beyond that we'd like it if you could stay in a hotel."

And while they are visiting, here's how to avoid a cold war, and make their summer stay a pleasant one:

  • "Be respectful," says Berman. "Understand that you don't have to be best friends with them, but they did bring your spouse into the world, and you do owe them some respect for that alone.
  • "Respect differences," says Berman. "You don't have to agree on politics and decorating. Better yet, avoid these hot-topic discussions.
  • "The more inclusive you can be when they are visiting, the better," says Berman. "Showing them you care means a lot.
  • "Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page," says Berman. "Your husband or wife should jump in and back you up if your in-laws are being critical or disrespectful."

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The Road Rager

You just set out on your first summer road trip, and you have 200 miles in front of you. But instead of cruising along the highway at 75 mph, you've been playing cat and mouse with an oversized RV -- maybe because you accidentally cut him off when you pulled back onto the highway after stopping for a greasy burger. Three high beams in your rear view mirror later, it's official -- the RV maniac has road rage. How do you handle this dangerous summer demon?

"Don't make eye contact," says Tony Fiore, PhD, a psychologist and anger coach. "That's the secret signal in the animal world to engage in combat."

At high speeds, combat is not recommended. What else can you do to protect yourself from ragers behind the wheel?

  • "Don't respond in kind," says Fiore. "Don't escalate it, because that makes them respond again; then you respond, and before you know it you have a real situation. Let them do what they're going to do and tell yourself it doesn't matter.
  • "Change what is called your 'self-talk' -- what you say to yourself that causes you to get worked up," says Fiore. "When someone cuts you off, automatic thoughts enter your mind: 'What a jerk, he has no right to do that, and I'm going to get even.' You have to challenge that self-talk and remember it's not personal.
  • "Realize that you don't know what's going on in their lives," says Fiore. "She could have just come from the doctor's office and gotten bad news, or he could have found out his wife is going to divorce him after 30 years."

With these dashboard tools, maybe you can get back on the road to summer fun.

The Bully

The public swimming pool is a haven for this dreaded summer demon: the bully. The kid who likes to torture those younger and weaker with dunking, cannonballs, and the worst possible thing that can happen to a kid in a bathing suit during the summer: the wedgie.

"A bully is someone who attempts in an aggressive and physical way to control another person," says Charles Figley, PhD, director of the psychosocial stress program at Florida State University. "Frequently, it's children who are bullies, and its learned behavior; it doesn't happen naturally."

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A bully's personality blossoms when his parents tolerate his bad behavior with a lack of punishment, as well as frequent admiration and encouragement, explains Figley.

Here's how a parent can help protect a child from a bully so the whole family can enjoy its summer:

  • "Ask what is going on," says Figley. "Their initial response may be 'nothing,' because they've learned if they tell it may make matters worse. But don't stop there.
  • "Have the child look at you, and then go through step by step what happened during the day," says Figley. "Unless the child is an extraordinarily good liar, you'll hit pay dirt.
  • "If the child finally admits that a bully held him under water, rather than focusing on your own child, ask if it happened to anyone else," Figley tells WebMD. "You're getting insight into the world of your child through his eyes, but you're focused on another child. It's less risky, and indeed it may help you both find a solution.
  • "Respect the child enough to ask what he or she has tried to do about it in the past," says Figley. "The child will then talk about strategies he or she has used to avoid the situation or to get along."

"What you're doing is engaging the child gently in a research project to gather all the facts to develop strategies to solve the problem," says Figley. "Even if it doesn't help in that particular situation, it's a great opportunity for the child to learn that he's not in it by himself. That the parent has a responsibility to be an ally or an advocate."

And if a parent actually witnesses the bullying taking place at the public pool?

"In the pool scenario, if a parent sees bullying happening, they need to act on it and not allow the child to be abused," says Figley. "While it may embarrass the child, their job is protection. Letting the drama unfold in the hope that it will teach the child a lesson in courage, that's swell, but it's completely unethical and inappropriate when the parent sees it for himself."

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Stay Cool When It's Hot

When the temperature starts to climb, what's the most important tip for keeping your cool, no matter what demon rears its ugly head?

"Learn how to respond instead of react," says anger coach Fiore. "You have a choice -- you're not Pavlov's dog. Ask yourself how to best get what you want without anger. The problem with anger is it doesn't work 95% of the time."

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 26, 2007
© 2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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