Tips to foster ‘Happy’ not ‘Havoc’ this holiday season

Happy Family Celebrating Thanksgiving Dinner At Home . Celebrati

The Holiday madness is here! As we all know, it comes fast and furious.

Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, a Board Certified Music Therapist, Dr. Bethany Cook shares tips to a happy and less manic, Holiday Season!

1. Gratitude Attitude – At meals, or  another appointed time, have everyone offer one thing they are grateful for; you can have categories like self, others, family, friends, nature. Studies have shown we can develop a gratitude mindset through effort and focus. When we bring to consciousness our blessings/positive aspects of life this improves our overall mental health.  The cocktail of stress hormones are replaced by the ‘love’ ones which is a win-win.

2. Validation Vase – As a family, design a jar/box and put small papers beside it with a pencil.  As things happen over the holidays (or throughout the year), ask family members to write down things they appreciate in others.  Read them together at predetermined times.  Hearing nice things about yourself and perhaps things you didn’t think anyone noticed, reinforces a sense of self within the family system.

3. Map the Holiday Months – Include not only dates for dinners but mark off time for shopping, couples time, alone time, etc. The holidays get mental and before you know it you’re overwhelmed and stressed. No one benefits. Add a budget to this map. Carve out 1-2 hours to talk about budgets, gifts, where to buy them, who will get them, who will watch the kids, etc. then stick to the map. Any diversions should be shared and pre approved if possible. Life is moving at the pace of the autobahn and one wrong turn or sudden break could derail those you are trying most to please.

4. ‘No Pressure Post Pics” –  Yes I know, we all want our ‘Hallmark’ memory or two over the next few months to be captured on film.  Problem is, when these moments are forced or that’s the focus during the event you are not actually ‘present’ to appreciate the real happiness that can be created by closely connecting to your loved ones.  Special moments are about slowing down time, stopping long enough to observe and your heart takes a picture with all your senses and stores it in your memory.  This heart picture can be triggered by any of the memories associated with your 5 senses; this increases the chances of the memory being ‘triggered’ thus making it a more powerful moment than a posed picture memory will ever be.

5. Limits Facilitate Leisure – You will want to set boundaries and limits with extended family and  friends before throwing or attending events.  Have an ‘action plan’ ready to go in case someone doesn’t respect your limit or your family isn’t respecting someone else’s.  If people arrive with more than that number of gifts you’ve said is ok to give the kids, do you put some away for later, allow a few gifts or turn the person away entirely and not let them in? If your child screams and runs around at a party do you walk out of the space and help them recenter then try again or leave immediately?

6. Build in Breaks – If you, or someone in your immediate crew, needs downtime to refuel, don’t plan events back to back. Mark off hours each day for downtime. If some people in your family don’t ‘recharge’ in low stimulating environments offer a different space or activity they can do to refill; maybe head to a local park or play ‘pick-up’ basketball right after Thanksgiving while the rest of the house naps.

7. The Helping High – It’s hard to help someone else and not feel better yourself. Sit down with your family and talk about ways to ‘give back’. This can be in the form of financial donations, volunteering your time/talents, buying gifts for a family, writing letters to those in the  military etc. Model for your children the importance of community and connection.

8. Be Able to Identify Raisins vs Chocolate Chips – Pause to reflect on what stresses you out the most about the holiday season; money, family events, past trauma, etc.  Once you have identified what ‘gets under your skin’ the most you can do your best to be ‘prepared’.  Let your partner and family know why holiday meals around a single table irritate you.  Share with your spouse how watching the ‘women’ in a family do all the cooking and cleaning bothers you so you want to help.  This prepares you mentally to pack your coping backpack and make sure you have all the necessary supplies to manage.

9. Keep Schedules Simple – Don’t over schedule yourself or kids. Do as much as you can ahead of time.  Be ok with saying “no” and practice saying it so it doesn’t get stuck in your throat.

By Brittney Falletta