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       Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.
       Licensed Clinical Psychologist

40 Lake Bellevue Drive, Suite 100
Bellevue, Washington 98005
(425) 455-5400


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Making the Most of the Holiday Season . . . . .

Capture the Magic of the Holidays Class
Links to online holiday resources
Share Your Special Holiday Traditions

Holidays--we love them and we hate them. Holidays . . .

  • Remind us of important values;

  • Provide us with an opportunity to celebrate;

  • Give us a reason to take a break;

  • Encourage us to stay in touch with friends and family;

  • Create fond memories that can last a lifetime.

On the other hand, holidays can . . .

  • Bring up unresolved issues from the past;

  • Reinforce feelings of loneliness, anger and disappointment;

  • Increase friction between family and friends;

  • Place additional stress on our lives and our pocket books;

  • Fall victim to more and more commercialization each year &

  • Can be a painful reminder of loved ones and relationships we've lost along the way.

Like most things in life, how we feel about holidays depends on what our experiences have been. Obviously, if you grew up in a close knit well-to-do family where holidays were a time for celebration and reflection on your blessings your experience will be very different than if you came from a family challenged by alcoholism, poverty and divorce. But even the happiest families struggle with the loss of a loved one, changes in financial circumstances and turning points in life that color their experience of the holiday season.


Holidays act like amplifiers . . .

exaggerating  our experience of

the good things and the bad things in our lives.


Our job is to focus that exaggeration on the good.


It's important to remember that holidays act like an amplifier, exaggerating our experience of both the good things and the bad things in life. No where is this more apparent than the winter holiday season where family expectations, social obligations, financial pressures and alcohol collide from mid-November through January 1st, leaving us to pick up the pieces at the start of the new year. To make matters worse, many of us also experience longer nights, overcast days and nasty weather that keeps us inside, triggering a form of depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that can stay with us until spring. Then again, falling leaves, jack-o-lanterns, spiced cider and the familiar smell of holiday cooking in the air can be a welcome break from everyday life.


The key to enjoying the holiday season is, as the song goes, to "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative." What follows are a few tips to help you make the most of your holiday season.


Get back to basics . . .

  • Remember what's important

  • Don't do too much

  • Start early

  • Prioritize &

  • Plan ahead

  • Debrief

One of the biggest threats to a happy holiday season is the tendency to do too much, spend too much and/or endeavor to please too many people over too short a period of time. If you come from a large family, "broken" home or are separated from your loved ones by distance, you may find that you're particularly vulnerable to overdoing, but, in truth, any of us can fall prey to the syndrome of trying to do too much.


Pace yourself. Remember---even if there are twenty people you would like to please or who "expect" you to please them, there is only one of you and if you do too much, in the end, everyone loses.


Focus on the people and things that are most important to you--including yourself. Odds are against your dong everything you want to do during any one holiday season, but if you prioritize, plan ahead and start early, you're likely to get a lot more done than you will if you procrastinate and leave everything to the last minute. But more importantly, your experience of the holidays is likely to be a lot more pleasant.


Debrief. History has a way of repeating itself and the lessons learned from past holiday seasons are rarely on our minds when the new year rolls around. Start a new tradition. Create a holiday notebook where you record memories of special moments and lessons learned from each holiday season. If you're really ambitious, make holiday resolutions for changes you'd like to make the next time the holiday rolls around. Some of you may even want to create a Holiday Planner---a notebook where you store everything from recipes to gift ideas you know you won't remember when you need them. In my psychotherapy practice, I sometimes encourage families to sit down after holidays, vacations and special events to share what they liked most, what they liked least and what they would like to change about their experience the next time around. The key here is not how you debrief, but that you take the time to reflect on the things that are most important to you.


Heal old wounds . . .

  • Identify triggers

  • Grieve losses

  • Postpone grudges

  • Set limits

  • Find support

Holidays can be painful when things aren't going your way. There's nothing like sitting at home by yourself at Christmas or being bombarded by lacy red hearts on Valentine's Day when you're all alone to make you feel down. What's more, if you came from a hurtful family, recently lost someone special or are disappointed about the way things are going in your life, the holiday season can sometimes make you feel worse.


It's hard to celebrate when you're hurting inside and unrealistic to expect you can go from sadness to celebration just because it's a special occasion. But what you can do, and may already be doing, is to systematically plant one foot in front of the other as one by one you heal your wounds, set limits with abusive family members, build new healthier relationships with family and friends and say good-bye to the people and relationships that once played an important part in your life.


All you can do is your best. Time has a way of healing some wounds, but others will require work. Set realistic goals. Don't expect to change things overnight. Do your best to make the most of each holiday season and, by all means, use the holiday season as an opportunity to learn and grow. Set ever so small goals for yourself and the kinds of changes you'd like to see in your relationships. Just don't try and do everything at once. I'm not saying it's impossible, but change is hard and trying to change everything at once can increase the chance of unnecessary failure.


When in doubt, get help. Many of the problems we face in life can be resolved if we only knew how. Find a counselor that specializes in the kinds of problems people typically face during the holiday season from dealing with grief and loss to blending families and coping with difficult people. No one has all the answers, but if you look hard enough, chances are good you'll find someone who can help you get started.


Put the "holy" back in the word holidays . . .


Use the holidays to . . .

  • Reacquaint yourself with your values;

  • Remember loves ones and special events &

  • Learn and grow.

For many of us, the word holiday has become synonymous with paid vacations, days off from school and another excuse to party. The values that holidays once represented are often lost in the midst of commercialism and the stress of dealing with everyday life.


If you are like most of people, your holidays are spent racing from one place to another in an effort to do more things than are humanly possible for a reasonably sane person to do. Unless you're religious and practice your faith on a regular basis or come from a family that makes a point of celebrating the holidays each year, it's easy for the meaning of the holidays to get lost in the commotion.


You don't have to be religious

to put "holy"ness back into the holidays.


Holidays can be an empowering force in our lives, if we use them well. What's more, you don't have to be religious to put "holy"ness back into the holidays. Let me explain . . .


Holidays were created for a reason. They were designed to remind us of important events, rites of passage and values that guide us through life. Because many holidays are associated with religion and national events, they're rejected by people who don't share the same beliefs. Other times the values that holidays represent are clouded by commercialism that distorts their meaning in a marketing ploy, but it doesn't have to be that way.


Take control of the holidays. Examine the role you want each holiday to play in your life and develop rituals that move you and your celebrations in that direction. Pick and choose the meaning and values you want to accentuate. If you want to use the holidays to stay in touch with family and friends, focus your energy in that direction. If you want the holidays to remind you to repent for your sins, make that your primary focus. To play, to honor, to remember, to gather, to rejoice---the choice is yours. Holidays are what we make them and mean what we choose to make them mean.


Best wishes to all of you throughout the holiday season!


* Resource Links . . .


The internet is a great place to explore the holidays. It offers everything from articles describing the meaning of different holidays to tips for managing stress and dealing with difficult family members. It's become a great place to turn for novel celebration ideas, recipes, gifts and crafts for kids. As luck would have it, many of the best holiday sites are also backed with banners and advertisements.  Search the web with discretion and pick and choose wisely, and by all means, have a wonderful holiday season!


Psych Central  If you have any interest in psychological things, check out this site. I've linked you to the Holiday Coping page which covers tips on everything from grieving loved ones at the holidays, surviving family gatherings, and managing children's expectations to seasonal step-family stress, Christmas holiday lighting addiction and making New Year's resolutions that last. The site contains a wealth of informal.


Earth Calendar   Lists holidays by day, year and country with links to more detailed descriptions for many of the holidays.


Ethnic & Religious Dates  If you want to know what religious holidays are happening in any given month, take a quick glance at this site published by the University of Kansas.


Everything Holidays  Did you know that Abraham Lincoln stored papers and notes in his stovepipe hat? Can't make it to a real haunted house on Halloween. How about a "virtual" online haunt? It's not as scary as the real thing, but can help you get in touch with the "spirit" of the season. All in all, this site has a little something for everyone---from the meaning of holidays to craft and gift ideas and just plain fun.


Family Education  This site has a little bit of everything from ways to separate Chanukah from Christmas and deal with stress to tips for making cards, helping kids fly alone and tree, lights and fire safety.


Helping Yourself Heal During the Holidays Holidays can be a difficult time when you've lost someone close to you. While no amount of advise or list of "tips" can take away your pain, you might want to check out this page offered by The Center for Loss & Life Transition just because it hurts.


His, Hers, and Theirs: Finding Holiday Happiness in a Blended Family Tips for helping newly blended families through the holidays.


Holiday Memories Rest on Traditions  Patricia Stelzer reinforces of the role tradition plays in our lives, while reminding us of origins common winter holiday traditions.


Holiday Traditions  Check out this site for a quick look at the many different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.


Holidays - Wikipedia  "The Free Encyclopedia," Wikipedia is packed with descriptions of holidays of almost every shape, size, religion, culture, country and activity.


Interfaith Calendar   For those of you wanting to know more about faiths of all kinds.


Kaboose  "Holiday Fun" page with links to summary descriptions of major holidays.


Keeping it Together for the Holidays  If you could only put one thing on your refrigerator door to help keep you sane through the holiday season, this article by Dr. Susan Zoglio would be my current pick.


Kwanza  Some of you may not be familiar with this holiday as it wasn't established until 1966. As a newer holiday, Kwanza reminds of the power of bringing meaning to our lives by setting aside a time and place to remember the things that are important to us. While steeped in African American tradition, Kwanza is a cultural (i.e., not religious) holiday built on values that are likely to resonate with us all.


Making the Holidays Less Materialistic Check out these tips presented by Kids Health designed to help you and your family think about rather than expect things for the holidays.


Making Meaningful Memories this Holiday and Beyond  There's nothing in this article you probably couldn't have thought of own your own. The problem is that most of us don't take the time to think about this stuff. Thankfully, Theresa Ryan did the work for us and organized some simple, enjoyable things you can do to both make and record holiday memories for years to come. You may want to start with some of her ideas and them personalize them to come up with some ideas of your own.


Martha Stewart Living  While much of Martha's site is geared toward sales of her products, it also includes simple craft ideas and projects you can make to personalize your holiday experience.


Orthodox Union  A great site for learning about the Jewish holidays---dates, customs and the history behind them.


Scheduling Secrets for Holiday happiness Practical tips to help you fit things into you holiday season without over doing.


Surviving the Blended Family Holiday One among many articles by Dawn Miller, a writer and step-mom, describing the trials and tribulations of blending families. Check out some of her other articles on holiday survival while you're there, or just look around. Not all of her advise will fit your family's circumstances, but odds are some of her tips will come in handy.


The Holiday Season on Edge  You used to be able to tell time by the holidays, but now they just seem to blur together. Paul Brand has captured this point nicely in this article.


Tips For A Greener Holiday  This article was written in 2006, but it's relevance is bound to grow with each passing year. Traditionally most of us have associated the holidays with a time of indulgence--a time of gifts, cards, food, lights, packing materials and increased travel. The last thing on our minds is the impact our increased indulgence is having on the world around us. Given the growing and very real concerns about pollution and global warming, however, it may be time to include thoughts about the environment in our holiday cheer. Check out this article for tips on greening up your holiday celebrations as one possible place to begin.


* Please check back from time to time for additional links.




Disclaimer . . . . . .

This site is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in on this site, the author assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. This site is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and/or counseling.


Copyright © 2023, Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved.                                        Top


Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.
40 Lake Bellevue, Suite 100, Bellevue, WA 98005
(425) 455-5400 Email: socialskills@reneegilbert.com

Copyright © 2023, Renée Gilbert, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer | HIPAA
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