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7 Strategies for a Happy Holiday Season

Keeping the Ho-Ho-Ho in the Holidays

Yes, it's here again. The holiday season is upon us. Traditionally, the last few weeks of the year are packed with non-stop activity---often a dizzying number of parties and social obligations, making plans for family members coming to visit or traveling back "home" to be with family. Then there's shopping for just the right gifts---for how many people did you say? And, of course, there's all that eating and drinking.

While many of you are looking forward to good times with friends and family and a little end of the year indulging (of course you deserve it, having gotten through the year), many of you may feel that you haven't quite mastered the art of holiday-making. So let's take a look at what you can do this season to gain a better perspective on the holidays and to create a few key strategies to help you manage your time, energy, and emotions so that you really can enjoy what the season brings.

Moderate your expectations. Many people run themselves ragged unnecessarily trying to get ready for the holidays. For these folks everything has to be "just so," absolutely "perfect"( meaning the most beautiful tree perfectly decorated, fabulous festivities on Christmas Eve/Day, and the picture perfect family gathering where everyone gets along, and everyone is loving and happy). In other words, reality equals the absolute fulfillment of the perfect fantasy.

To moderate that way of thinking, instead of striving for the ideal of perfection (whatever that means), strive for making every moment just right, just "perfect" by being present in the moment for what you do.

Be realistic. Don't expect that what disappointed you about the holiday season in the past is going to magically change. Having said that, if you honestly assess what did or didn't happen and change your attitude and/or belief about it that may help you have a better outcome. If there is something you actually can change (some interaction or event, for example) things may play out differently as well.

Manage family dynamics. Logistics can be very difficult. Plan ahead for people coming to stay with you for the holidays. Don't wait until people arrive to figure this all out. Having a lot of family around as pleasant as it may be, still needs to be orchestrated so that everyone's space and time is respected.

Virtually all of us want to please others. Some of you may fear disappointing significant others if you didn't choose just the right gift or may fear yourself judged by the price of the gift. Try to cultivate a realistic attitude about those people who are never satisfied with what they get or are critical of your choice. And throw in some compassion for what they don't understand.

Rule of thumb: Adapt a policy of no major family discussions over unresolved issues and conflicts during the holidays. These difficult issues can and should wait for more private time.

Be realistic about how much money you can really spend. How many of you actually plan way ahead of the holidays for what you'll need to spend on Christmas gifts, parties you plan on having, dinners for family and friends, travel arrangements if you're visiting family out-of-town? Create a realistic budget and stick to it. Be creative---hand made gifts are personal and thoughtful and can cost a heck of a lot less.

Plan your partying beforehand. You may be worried about too much partying and allowing the eating and drinking to get out of hand. While you may be a very disciplined person in your everyday life and routine, when the holiday season rolls around it's all too easy to want to celebrate and to drop your guard and overindulge. Make a plan beforehand for how to moderate your behavior during the holidays and/or create a plan to get yourself quickly back on track once the holidays are over?

Spend alone time. With so much going on all around you during the holidays it's important to make time for yourself and to take care of your own needs. Having time to yourself allows you to step away from all the activity, keeps things in perspective, and helps you moderate your responses.

Create a personal ritual. While celebration and joy are universal themes of the holiday season, some of you may not relate to the religious/spiritual aspects of it. You may want to find a way to personally express the meaning and significance of the season that becomes part of a year end tradition for you. Aside from a ritual designed just for you, family rituals create a tradition moving forward into the future. Volunteering your time in the community on Christmas Eve or Day is another way to express the meaning and significance of the season.

This adds a new dimension to the holidays as well, for well beyond the festivities, the end of the year marks a transition from the life of the year just past to a new beginning and to the renewal that the New Year promises.

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
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