Holiday Prep: Creating Memories Without the Emotional Toll


It’s the holiday season, which typically ignites a variety of emotions. For some, it is a season to reconnect, create new memories, and rejuvenate. Others will feel their anxiety increase as they anticipate certain conversations that will most likely occur and trigger discomfort and conflict.

Regardless of where you may fall emotionally, everyone seems to crave a holiday that is full of joy and relaxation, and remains drama-free.

Imagine sitting around the table for your holiday feast and being surrounded by smiles, even laughter, as your loved ones interact in a way that naturally flows. Conversations that are free of passive-aggressive remarks, eye rolls, silence, or yelling. Is this possible? It is, but it requires preparation and teamwork.

Create a holiday plan.

Having a plan creates unity and encourages a mindset that is proactive versus reactive. It does not need to be an intricate plan, but simply one that respects certain boundaries and encourages everyone to take a pause in order to refocus on what is actually being celebrated.

I worked with a family several years ago, and inevitably a debate about politics erupted and completely sabotaged any chance of this group having a merry Christmas. Something had to be done. Simply stating that a political discussion was not a good idea after it had already begun was not effective enough.

This family now operates proactively, and upon arrival, everyone writes one word or topic onto a small piece of paper. Once everyone has anonymously contributed to the pile, they are read aloud. Everyone collectively agrees that they are not to make mention or speak about any of the topics or words written. This not only respects boundaries, but it sets the tone that supports a collective focus. As a result, people tend to relax and feel psychologically safe. You may even try creating a separate pile of topics family members would like to chat about after the “off-limits” pile has been addressed, of course!

Be mindful and present.

Picture a balloon in your belly that expands and contracts. The air filling the balloon symbolizes your stressors, tasks, and any other stimuli that require energy. Similarly, air releases when you rejuvenate, acknowledge your feelings, or take care of yourself.

Be mindful of how full your balloon is prior to family gatherings. This will impact how you interact, your ability to be present, and how you affect the energy of the room. Begin to identify what conversations, activities, or practices might help you release some of your air and generate a reset. How we transition truly matters and directly impacts those around us. It begins by pausing and validating how you are feeling.

Manage your expectations.

Do you have expectations for the holidays? If so, are they realistic or just fueling stress and disappointment? Try adopting a mindset that supports the idea that everyone is doing their best. The best they can with what resources they have, their ability to emotionally regulate, and limited space to prioritize their self-care.

Let’s be real: Most of us feel incredibly exhausted and burnt out, and it continues to be a “rough ride” in many ways. Remember to give yourself and others around you grace. Avoid falling victim to the “grass is greener” mentality. This type of thinking is incredibly damaging and only encourages negative emotions. If you tend to fall victim to this mindset, take a meaningful break from social media and redirect your attention inward and to what you are experiencing.

Imagine what this holiday season would look like if we could refrain from passing judgment and giving direct advice without knowing all of the details. A holiday season where we avoided projecting our emotions onto others and felt safe enough to take a break or set a boundary. One that allowed everyone to feel worthy and “good enough.” A celebration where families are deliberate with the spaces they are creating for others and themselves. It is possible. It just requires you to pause, mindfully transition, and take ownership of how you interact with and impact those around you.


Psychology Today

By: Leah Marone, LCSW

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