For many, the holiday season is a time for family, friends, joy, happiness and celebration—a wonderful time of the year. It can also be a time of great stress. With excessive demands, it’s easy to lose sight of what is important and fall into traps of unrealistic expectations. But there are some things you can do, and things you should not do, to maximize your enjoyment during this wonderful time.
First, really consider what is important to you and your loved ones about this time of the year. Quite often, the things that matter the most, like spending time with people we care about, expressing positive feelings, celebrating a past year and looking forward to a good year to come, are hidden by the need to buy perfect and expensive gifts, prepare elaborate meals and have everything go off without a hitch. Make a list of priorities for you and your family and focus on achieving what is truly most important.
And be mindful of your spending, especially on gifts. Overextending your wallet can mean the stress of debt for months to come. Think about what you appreciate receiving from others. It is usually more about the thought and meaning of the gift than the expense.
In addition, be sure to keep up healthy habits during this time. Stress can be managed through exercise, good and controlled eating, and not drinking more than normal. And know when to say “no.” Many demands may be placed on you, but those who really care about you are able to understand and respect your limits.
Finally, I believe it is important to connect well with those around you. Be mindful of your relationships and allow yourself to be open, express care and let people know what they mean to you. How you are with them is much more important than what you give to them.
At the same time, be realistic. If there are unresolved family issues, thinking they will somehow magically disappear at holiday time can set you up for great disappointment. So manage your expectations and anticipate difficulties in advance. Remember, you cannot control anyone else’s behavior but your own. If the holidays have traditionally been a difficult time, assess what has made it that way and try to plan some changes.
Moe Gelbart, PhD, is a psychologist, director at Gelbart and Associates, and executive director of the Thelma McMillen Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment at Torrance Memorial.