Feminist Psychotherapy with
Jeanne Courtney, MFT

5 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays

4. Make your own traditions.

Obviously, Christmas isn't a part of everybody's cultural background. Even if it does happen to be a tradition you grew up with, you may have changed your religious beliefs, your sense of what feels festive, or your ideas about what makes a family. To counter the mono-cultural messages that insist everyone should "get into the holiday spirit," review your own genuine values about what it really means to celebrate. Perhaps an anarchist anti-Christmas poetry reading would suit you better than presents under a tree, or maybe you prefer a pagan Solstice gathering in the woods to a turkey dinner at home. Maybe it's okay to want and enjoy all of the above. The point is, this so-called holiday season can serve as a reminder to honor your own values and create your own rituals.

​1. Check your wallet.

Feeling pressure to overspend on gifts, travel, or entertaining? Already worried about how you'll feel when it's time to pay those January bills? First try reducing the visual cues that prompt you to spend: turn off the television, flip past the full page ads.  If you don't have a shopping plan, make one. Be realistic about what you can afford. But don't economize in ways that will make you feel too deprived, or you may find yourself using impulsive shopping as a way to rebel.  

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It might also help to take some quiet time and ponder what money really means in your life. Are you spending to impress, to compete, to get someone's approval, to feel successful and grown up? Are you wishing money could buy that perfect holiday that will make up for past disappointments? (If financial drama and chaos seem to follow you through the holidays and beyond, a support group such as Debtors Anonymous might help.)

2. Just say no.

Money isn't the only thing we're pressured to spend during the holidays. Time is precious, too. Trying to do too much can you make you ineffective at whatever you're doing. If you're the one who always does the planning, shopping, cleaning, etc., maybe it's time to start asking for help. At first you may not like giving up control and letting somebody else take charge, but having some breathing space may be worth it. It's also hard to disappoint other people who may have counted on you in the past, but, generally speaking, resentment lasts longer than guilt.

3. Change the system.

Families and other group systems have a life of their own, and they try to survive by keeping things the way they've always been. Families become "dysfunctional" when the system's need to keep things the same, causes individuals to do things that no longer serve anybody's real needs or help anybody's personal growth. Dysfunctional behaviors tend to escalate during the holidays, when families get together more, or at least feel pressured to. Old feelings come to the surface because our minds, consciously or not, remember experiences -- good and bad -- associated with this time of the year.


​The good news is, it only takes one family member to upset the system by changing his or her behavior. This doesn't mean you can change your relatives or make them act the way you'd like, but it does mean you can be the one to start things shifting and start freeing yourself from old family patterns. If you feel trapped during visits, make a plan that allows for a convenient exit (for example, staying at a motel or bringing your own car). If you find yourself in a shouting match every year with a family member who drinks too much or makes a point of being critical, use self-talk to detach from that person's behavior. Then focus on your own. If, instead of just reacting, you make statements that are honest and direct, and take actions that take care of your own needs, you will end up feeling better about yourself regardless of what everyone else chooses to do.

5. Give yourself a break. 

Get out of town for a day, alone, before the bustle begins. Meditate. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Get a little exercise. Talk to a friend about problems that are troubling you. Remember to breathe. All these things may seem obvious, but it's easy to forget the basics when the pressures of the season set in. Perhaps the most important way to take care of yourself during the holidays, or any stressful time, is to avoid trying too hard. While there are some things you can do to reduce the pressure to spend money, the social demands, the family problems, and the sense of alienation from mainstream traditions, it's just a fact of life that these issues come up. Being a perfectionist about how you handle it all will only increase the stress. Give yourself credit for the ways you already are taking care of yourself.