Work parties. Family gatherings. Spending money on gifts. Hectic schedules that leave little time for rest and reflection.
We spend weeks preparing for holiday events with friends and family, and the whole process can sometimes exhaust us to no end.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
The best thing about the holiday season is it’s yours to celebrate as you wish, with those you love most.
Lyndsay Volpe-Bertram, PsyD, section chief for psychology at Spectrum Health, encourages people to toss out preconceived notions about the holidays and instead focus on activities that inspire meaningful connections and happiness.
“Do what is enjoyable and don’t participate in the holidays out of guilt or thinking, ‘I should do this or that,’” she said. “Set boundaries and think about limits when needed. And spend time with the people you love most.”
Dr. Volpe-Bertram offered the following tips to manage stress and anxieties amid the rush.
Do what you enjoy
Spend time thinking about the last few holidays and consider what you liked the most—and what you liked the least.
“Try to prioritize the activities that were most meaningful to you,” she said.
It may be too much to hit multiple households for holiday gatherings, especially in one day.
“Develop a rotation so that you can enjoy being in one space, rather than thinking about racing to the next,” she said. “And say no if you simply do not have enough time to make it to every single event.”
These can be boundaries with your time, your finances, and even the people you associate with.
“Talk with your household ahead of time about how you want to spend the holidays, then make decisions based on this,” she said.
Let family and friends know, in advance, about how much time you can spend at one location.
Set limits ahead of time
If you have challenging family relationships, consider setting limits either before or at the start of a gathering.
“Agree to not discuss certain topics like politics or religion,” Dr. Volpe-Bertram said. “Think about how you will redirect the conversation if it veers into something that you’re not comfortable with. And ask another family member or support person to intervene if needed.”
Stay home if you’re sick
“Given everything we have gone through with the pandemic, consider if you’d like to set rules or guidelines for gathering,” Dr. Volpe-Bertram said.
Your group can agree to test before a gathering, or choose not to attend if anyone is feeling ill, she said.
Remember loved ones
Sometimes the holidays are difficult because of the loss of a family member.
“Rather than try to avoid thinking or talking about someone who was important or special, think about ways to incorporate their memory into the gathering,” she said. “Spend time sharing fond memories or looking at old photos, or even bake a dish your loved one used to bring to the holiday gathering.”
Be mindful of your children’s needs
“Don’t force your children to be overly affectionate with family members that they do not know well or might not be comfortable around,” Dr. Volpe-Bertram said. “Make sure that they have time to decompress, to eat, and that they are getting enough sleep.”
The holidays are exciting, but kids need a consistent routine and care just like adults.
Limit shopping and spending
The holidays don’t have to be all about the gifts and spending money.
“While these can be fun, they can lead to greater stress,” she said. “Set limits with gifts and shopping by setting price limits on gift exchanges. And stick to your budget.”
Aim to establish new traditions that don’t involve a significant cost.
“For example, consider having your family or group of friends engage in a volunteer activity to benefit those in need, instead of buying gifts for one another,” Dr. Volpe-Bertram said.
Consider opting out of gift-giving for family gatherings.
“Focus instead on holiday activities and games, or a fun outdoor family activity like sledding or visiting a nearby park or playground,” she said.
Consider helping out a local family in need—purchase household items for them, rather than gifting to family members who may already have all they need.
Take care of yourself
“The holidays can be incredibly busy, so it is important to make sure that you’re eating, sleeping and exercising consistently,” Dr. Volpe-Bertram said. “If you will be busy, schedule some downtime after the holidays so that you have a break before going back to work.”
The bottom line: Enjoy the holidays by spending cherished time with friends and family.
“Do what you love and love what you do, and you’ll have a wonderful holiday season,” she said.