Happy Holidays from Carolina Behavioral Counseling!

How to Actually have Happy Holidays

by Samantha Brenner, MS, EdS, NCC, LPC
Founder and Senior Counselor, Carolina Behavioral Counseling

“The most wonderful time of the year” tends to bring a lot more stress than the cheerful music and commercials let on. If you are worried about the next few months because your family is hard to communicate with, or you are just not a holiday person, this article is for you.

Here are 5 key categories with helpful tips when preparing for the holiday season.

  • Reduce the people on your shopping list — you do not have to buy presents for everyone! Let me repeat, you do not have to buy presents for everyone! Consider this a de-cluttering.
  • Set a budget and stick to it — once you've narrowed down your gift-giving list, decide how much you want to spend on each person. Picking one or two small, thoughtful items is plenty for kids, and offer to host a white elephant for the adults (put a list of names in a hat and pick one out so that each participant is only responsible for one person's gift).
  • Hand make as many gifts as possible — key words: as possible. Don't go to a craft store and spend hundreds just to hand make a gift. Do this if you already have supplies or can find some for low-cost. Your recipient will appreciate the time and effort you put into their gift!
  • Compromise on travel — airfare and even gas or hotels can be outrageously overpriced during this time of year. See if you can house-hop among family and friends to avoid the cost of a hotel. Aim for a road trip instead of a flight to save some extra cash. Even if it's far, it is usually still less expensive than airfare.

  • Decide ahead of time what aspects of your life you're comfortable sharing — sometimes people (even family… especially family) just don't seem to take the hint. You do not have to disclose if/who you are dating, whether you want kids, or any other personal details about your life. The key to not getting sucked into these conversations is preparing your “yes” and “no” topics.
  • Practice “I-statements” — so you're caught off-guard and Aunt Sally is just being extra nosey this year. How do you politely, yet assertively decline the conversation? I-statements! “I appreciate your interest in my dating life. Right now I would like to keep that private. I am curious, how has everything been going with you?”
  • Shift the focus to something else — politics, religion, and morality beliefs tend to cause tension when not everyone agrees 100%. It is perfectly okay to bring attention elsewhere. Begin a discussion about a new TV show you've been enjoying or share the summary of a book you recently read. “I-statements” can also be helpful (see above): “I would feel more comfortable if we discussed something else. I watched a docu-series about false confessions that I think you would enjoy!”
  • Offer to help cook or clean up — if Uncle Bob just. won’t. stop., see if anyone needs help in the kitchen. This will help you get away from unwanted conversations while also lending a helping hand.

  • Portions, portions, portions! — Thanksgiving foods are my absolute favorite, so I totally get it. You want to indulge on all of the flavors. Instead of filling up your plate with everything, create a sampler platter with smaller amounts of each. That way, you can still taste what you've been looking forward to all year (okay, maybe that's just me), but you don’t over do it.
  • Write down a few no-equipment exercises you can do at home — if you've been following a fitness plan and you're not sure how to stay on track, there are several free mobile apps, as well as Pinterest boards dedicated to body-weight exercises. This means no-equipment, no gym — just you and the floor (and some upbeat music to keep you going).
  • Invite family for an after-meal walk — this is a great way to burn off some calories while also catching up with family members (the ones you actually enjoy talking to). It helps kickstart digestion for the evening and also gives you some fresh air after being indoors. If you live in a colder climate, you may skip this one!

  • Reflect on the positive memories with your loved one — this time of the year can be painful if you've recently lost someone close to you. Take a few minutes to remember the funny stories or the loving moments you shared with your loved one.
  • Create new traditions to honor them — you could place a special decor item around the house, plant flowers that are perfect for fall and winter, or play their favorite board game. If the wound is fresh, you may find healing from writing them a letter sharing what you want them to know about your life.
  • Give yourself permission to experience all emotions that come up — it is normal and understandable to feel emotionally overwhelmed during the holidays when you're grieving. Do not try to avoid difficult emotions. Allow yourself to feel sad, or to cry, or to miss them being around. Let yourself breathe.

  • Alternate holidays between families — you may find that selecting which holidays that year will be for which side of the family works best, or you may switch years spending the holidays with only one side at a time.
  • Make your plans clear — part of the holiday stress is managing to see everyone in just a few days. You are not required to fit everyone into your schedule! Decide up front what your plans will be so that you can clearly communicate that to family and friends.
  • Give yourself downtime to relax, too! — this is supposed to be a break from your busy life! When you alternate holidays and make your plans clear, you have more time to just relax because your day-to-day arrangements are already set.

Don't let “the most magical time of the year” overwhelm you or cause you more stress. Try out a few of these tips to help actually enjoy the holidays! If you are having a hard time dealing with stress, consider counseling services. Click to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Sharing is caring! If you found any of these strategies useful, share this post so others can benefit, too.


Samantha Brenner is a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor (#7306) specializing in depression, anxiety, relationships, military families, and other mental health challenges.

She works with youth ages 6 to 17 and adults. Her office is located in Columbia, SC.

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