Putting the Happy Back into Holidays


If last year you thought, “I need a vacation!” to recover from the stress of the holidays then this is the time to make plans and take some steps to transform the memories of last year’s stress-filled holiday season into peaceful new memories of meaningful moments for you and your family.

Here are some steps:

1. Preempt stress. If memories of the holidays leave you feeling sad, angry, stressed or frustrated, take a little time to reflect on what, specifically, leaves you feeling this way. Once you’ve identified the stressors you will be in a better position to do things differently and face stressors on your own terms. Your plans might include minimizing your exposure to stressful situations or people and reaching out for support.

2. Create meaning. If you don’t already have family traditions the holidays are a great time to start. If you do have traditions, it’s okay to let go of the traditions that have lost their meaning and add new ones that are a better fit for your family. By planning rituals and creating traditions you give your children comfort and a sense of belonging. Being intentional about how you celebrate creates meaningful memories for your family.

3. Limit commitments. It’s okay to be selective. When you are deciding how to spend your time and money consider changing ‘I should…’ and ‘I must…’ to ‘I could…’ This creates an opportunity to choose and having a choice is empowering. It can ease the stress or resentment you may experience when you think you have no choice. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to discern and consider options like simplifying, modifying, cutting back or just saying ‘No,’ and this can create more time for you.

4. Schedule. Record individual and family commitments on a bulletin board or calendar and update as needed. Remember to include some unstructured time, time to relax and exercise, and time for family rituals.

5. Change your mind. If the thought of tackling your to-do list leaves you feeling overwhelmed, adjust your view. Changing the way you think changes the way you feel. One way to change your frame of mind is to remind yourself of times in the past that you overcame challenges and that you can succeed again with some planning and a little perseverance.

Another strategy is to focus on positive aspects of the situation. Instead of dreading how much time it will take to clean and decorate the house, think about how much you appreciate having a tidy home or how much you enjoy creating a beautiful space for your family and friends to gather to celebrate the holidays.

Instead of focusing on how overwhelmed you are when you think about tackling the holiday cards you might consider how grateful you feel to have friends and family to send holiday greetings to. By changing the way you are thinking, you transform a previously dreaded experience into something less stressful and much more pleasant.

6. Say Hoorah! When you complete one of your to-do list items take a moment and give yourself a ‘pat on the back.’ It feels better and it’s more motivating to hear a little ‘Yeah for me!’ in your mind instead of another reminder of how much you have left to do. Don’t forget to give a few ‘shout outs’ of appreciation and encouragement to your partner and children.

7. Take care. Your body will be in a better position to ward off inevitable stress and recover from its impact if you keep up or begin a daily routine practice of healthy habits. This may also be a good time to talk to your children and reinforce the importance of self-care and to remind yourself that you are modeling good (or bad) habits for them, like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, connecting with friends and loved ones, and having some ‘down time.’

8. Stick to the routine. During the holidays or any stress-filled time, keep your family ‘on schedule’ by observing your normal routines and rituals around mealtimes and bedtimes as much as possible. This gives children a greater sense of security, minimizing their stress and yours too.

9. When you do become stressed here are a few strategies to use to alleviate or reduce the impact of stress:

  • Remember to breathe—take long, slow, deep breaths.
  • When your mind is racing and you are feeling overwhelmed shift your focus to the present moment—notice and focus on what you hear, or taste, or see, or feel—right now, in the present moment.
  • Connect with others, ask for and accept support, give and receive hugs.
  • Stretch, go for walks, do something physical.

With a little planning and some effort you can take steps to intentionally change your future memories of this year’s holiday season into ones that are filled with peace and more meaning.

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