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8 Ways to Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

8 Ways to Take the Joy Out of the HolidaysIn case you haven’t noticed, the winter holidays are here. They sweep over us like a tsunami of lights, sights, sounds and smells. It can be a season of joy or a season of stress. Most of us would choose the joy, but it’s easy to get caught up in things that can bring out the bah-humbug in the best of us.

Here are eight surefire ways to make sure we are exhausted, resentful, and broke by December’s end. Perhaps being aware of them will help us all keep good holiday spirits right into the new year.

1. Neglect the basics.

Don’t get enough sleep. Eat nothing but sugar. Don’t move except from car to store to car to door. It’s easy to neglect health and wellbeing during a time of celebratory eating, rushing around to do in a week what should take a month, and staying up too late to make sure every tradition is honored. We can fill our days with excuses (“Oh just this once I’ll …”) or we can stick to our healthy routines some — or even most — of the time and still enjoy the season.

2. Decorate every inch of the house.

The covers on those women’s magazines at the checkout counter can make us all feel like slackers. Twenty-four holiday gifts you can make in a day! 50 easy cookie recipes! Simple crafts to make your house inviting, warm, wonderful, in the spirit! Yeah. But most of us already put in a full day every day. The very idea of actually making those gifts, cookies, and decorations is exhausting.

If you truly enjoy crafts and decking the halls, by all means do it — just do it in a way that makes you as well as the house feel great. If your job is demanding and you already feel stretched to the max, it’s really okay to use the same decorations you’ve always used (that’s what traditions are all about anyway) and to buy a couple of dozen cookies.

3. Dig up memories of past holidays where you were neglected, mistreated, or ignored by someone or maybe by several someones.

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We can relive our disappointments over and over or we can focus on making this holiday season happier and more meaningful. Promise yourself to take charge of some part of the holiday season this year and make a happy memory to look back on next year. Do this enough years in a row and you will build a fund of good memories.

4. Focus on what you don’t have and can’t do.

‘Tis the season when we can feel sorry for ourselves for not being able to buy the gifts we’d like to buy, for not being able to go on a winter vacation, for not being as well off as some family member, friend, or neighbor. Or we can appreciate what we do have and be grateful for the moments when we can do something special with or for someone we love.

5. Over-commit your time by saying yes when you really need to say no.

The PTO needs cookies? You agree to bake 6 dozen. The church needs folks to staff the holiday fair? You take two shifts as a favor to your friend the committee chair. The Cub Scouts need a place to have a party? You volunteer your house.

All are worthy activities. But you don’t have to do them all or do them all in a big way to be a good enough person. Choosing carefully when to say an enthusiastic yes and when to say a graceful no can make the difference between joyful participation and high stress.

6. Overspend.

It’s so tempting, isn’t it? The holiday sales are on. Every catalogue promises deals and steals – and free shipping. While you’re out buying for others, it’s hard not to throw in things you wanted for yourself. Although you intend to stay within a budget, it’s hard not to get just one more little thing for each of the kids. Bad idea. The likely outcome of going over budget is that you’ll be financially stressed until March. Believe me. The kids would rather have a happy parent than another toy or a designer sweater.

7. Try to get to too many places in too short a time.

Most of us don’t get a week off during the holidays, but many of us act as if we do. Let’s see: Christmas Eve at your mother’s, Christmas morning at your house. Christmas dinner with your partner’s family. The next day you’re expected to show up for a party. You put 500 miles on the car in three days. The kids are cranky. You’re cranky. Everyone is exhausted. As much as others may be disappointed, you do have a choice about all that running around. Stay put. Invite relatives to come to you for a change. Or stretch the holiday visiting out over the month. Only Santa has to get around the world in 24 hours. You don’t.

8. Threaten the kids.

“If you don’t behave, Santa won’t come.” As tempting as it may be to use Santa as the heavy, it can make a child anxious now and resentful in the future. Although it may buy a moment’s peace, threatening kids with the promise of a stocking stuffed with coal or bribing them with the promise of a pony can only destroy the magic. Leave Santa out of your repertoire for child management. Instead, catch them being good whenever you can. Be firm and fair in your discipline. You’ll be more effective as a parent and you’ll get the bonus of being able to see the magic of Christmas through a child’s eyes.

8 Ways to Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). 8 Ways to Take the Joy Out of the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.