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The Keys to a Happy Holiday

The Keys to a Happy Holiday I can’t wait ‘til this is over. I just have to get through the next few months. I wish I could fast forward to January, or better yet, February.

Many of us have these kinds of thoughts and feel a sense of dread about the holidays. The holiday season brings extra responsibilities, extra expenses and a whole lot more stress.

But it doesn’t have to become a huge, exhausting hassle. You can savor a satisfying and relatively stress-free holiday season. Here’s how.

Check in with yourself and your family.

Be intentional about how you spend the holiday. “Don’t do things just because you should,” said Susan Burger, DC, a chiropractor and coach who runs a holistic health center in Morrisville, Pa.

She suggested asking yourself and your family these questions:

  • “Is this something I really want to spend time on?
  • Is this something that enhances my holiday and my friends and family’s experiences of it?
  • What can we do to make our holiday better and bring more meaning?”

Also, “do what makes sense for you now,” said Donna Hamilton, MD, a physician who helps people become healthier in a way that makes sense for them. What worked for you 10 years ago or even a year ago might not work today, she said.

Maybe today you’re earning less, have an illness, have more kids or simply don’t enjoy certain old traditions. Maybe this year you’ll have a smaller tree or no tree at all. Maybe you’ll give your kids one gift instead of eight for every day of Hanukkah.

Give yourself permission to create new traditions and revise old routines, Burger said. “Traditions have to start somewhere,” Dr. Hamilton said.

Be clear about your priorities.

“Know what’s important to you,” Hamilton said. This helps you reduce overwhelm by saying no to activities that aren’t a priority and by keeping calm when something unimportant goes wrong.

If your priority is family time and going to church or synagogue, making the best meal or giving the greatest gift won’t matter.

Rethink gift-giving.

“Instead of gifting clutter, consider helping loved ones cross something off their bucket list,” said Jamie Novak, author of several books on organizing, including The Get Organized Answer Book, 1000 Best Quick and Easy Time-Saving Strategies and 1000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets.

She gave these examples: If your aunt always wanted to bake French pastries, sign her up for a class. Take your mom on a tour of your old town, and have dinner at your favorite spot.

Or forget gifts altogether. Instead, give your time, Hamilton said. “Volunteer at a homeless shelter or nursing home, or buy gifts for foster kids.”

Take good care of yourself.

“Self-care is part of personal health care,” said Hamilton, author of the forthcoming workbook Wellness Your Way. It nourishes you emotionally, physically and spiritually. And it helps you savor the holidays and help others.

“You can’t give from an empty cup.” In other words, it’s hard to help loved ones when you’re depleted yourself, she said. Avoid skimping on sleep, a surefire path to exhaustion.

Add other relaxing and energizing activities, such as soaking in the tub, taking a longer shower, taking a walk and enjoying 10 minutes of quiet time while sipping tea and looking out the window, she said.

“Don’t overextend yourself.” Be mindful of the commitments you’re going to make. Know how much money you’re going to spend. Listen to your body. “When you feel exhausted and run down, the solution probably isn’t to have more coffee, but might be to rest or sleep.”

Schedule free time.

“Right now X off a few hours on the calendar — maybe a Saturday and two or three weeknights,” Novak said. You might not know how you’ll spend that time. But you’ll be grateful to have a free evening to wrap a gift or two, sip hot chocolate and watch the holiday lights, she said.

Reach out.

“When you want something, a way to get it is to first give it,” Burger said. For instance, if you don’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, host a dinner for others in the same boat, she said. “If you want more friends, first be a friend to someone.”

Get organized.

Novak suggested keeping an envelope for holiday receipts in your bag. “If you need to make a return or ask for a price match, you’ll know just where the receipt is.” Plus, it’s a helpful way to track spending.

Pick a box or laundry basket to serve as your hub for the holidays, housing such items as “batteries, special napkins and all those extra rolls of tape.”

Ask for help.

“Recognize when you need help, and ask for it,” Hamilton said. This might be as simple as asking a trusted family member or neighbor to pick up your kids from piano lessons, she said. Or it may be calling a friend to say you’re lonely and need to talk, she said.

Temper expectations.

Have realistic expectations both for yourself and your loved ones, Hamilton said. Don’t expect anyone to change their stripes just because it’s the holidays. Instead of being blindsided, be prepared, she said.

Instead of hoping your aunt doesn’t criticize your cooking, like she always does, figure out how you’ll respond. Maybe you’ll simply say, “Well, I love how the stuffing turned out.” Or maybe you’ll ask your best friend to be available in case you need to vent.

“This time it can be different because you’re going to be different, not because they will be,” Burger said.

Keep a sense of humor.

As Novak said, “The holidays are busy and messy and that’s a fact… look around at all the chaos and smile. And “If all else fails and company is on their way, just wrap a big empty box, cut off one end and slip it over the big pile of clutter to disguise it in plain sight.”

Ultimately, instead of letting the holidays swirl around you, make a choice to create the experience you want, Hamilton said. Then “make follow-up choices that support that experience.”

The Keys to a Happy Holiday

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). The Keys to a Happy Holiday. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Nov 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.