9 Tips to Foster 'Happy' not 'Havoc' this Holiday Season

The Holiday madness is here! As we all know, it comes fast and furious. Clinical Psychologist, Health Service Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and  Board Certified Music Therapist, Dr. Bethany Cook, shares nine tips to a happy (and less manic) Holiday Season.

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, or nature. Studies have shown we can develop a gratitude mindset through effort and focus. When we bring to consciousness the positive aspects of life, it improves our overall mental health. The cocktail of stress hormones are replaced by the ‘love’ ones which is a win-win.

Validation Vase

As a family, design a vase 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.

Map the Holiday Months

Include not only dates for dinners, but mark off time for shopping, couples time, and alone time. The holidays get busy, and before you know it, you’re overwhelmed and stressed. You can also add a budget to this map. Carve out a couple hours to talk about budgets, gifts, where to buy them, who will get them, and who will watch the kids while you shop. Then, stick to the plan! Any diversions should be shared and pre-approved if possible.

No Pressure Post Pics

Yes, we all want our ‘Hallmark’ memories over the next few months to be captured on film. Problem is, when these moments are forced, or that’s the main 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 and stopping long enough to actually observe them. Put the camera down and let your heart take a picture!

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 limits or your family isn’t respecting someone else’s. If people arrive with more than the number of gifts you’ve said is okay to give your kids, what is the plan? Do you put some away for later? If your child screams and runs around at a party, do you walk outside and help them recenter? Or do you say your goodbyes and head home for a nap?

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. Learn what downtime is best for each person. Maybe one family member prefers to take naps while another would rather read at the park. Find what works best for each family member and make sure to give them each their own customized downtime.

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 could be in the form of financial donations, volunteering your time or talents, buying gifts for a family, or writing letters to kids who are in the hospital. Model for your children the importance of community and connection. Talk with your family and see what they are passionate about this year.

Reflect on Stressors

Pause to reflect on what stresses you out the most about the holiday season; money, family events, decorating madness?  Once you have identified what gets under your skin the most, you can do your best to be prepared. Do holiday meals with twenty different dishes not work for you? Ask your family to agree on a few dishes they’d love you to make. Do you find that you feel obligated to overspend on gifts for the kids? Talk with your partner about less expensive options that the kids will still love. These talks will prepare you mentally to pack your coping backpack and make sure you have all the necessary supplies to manage.

Keep Schedules Simple

Don’t over schedule yourself or your kids. Do as much as you can ahead of time, but also be okay with saying no. Make sure your family has free days to simply enjoy each other, the chilly weather, and the joyous season!