How to Stay Sane This Holiday Season


Are you looking forward to the season ahead with shivers of anticipation? Or just shivers? Here are 6 steps to save you untold aggravation, angst, time, and money by persuading you not to do the things you don’t want to do this holiday season.

List Your Holiday Traditions 

Take a few minutes to write down every holiday custom you feel you should follow. Start with family patterns, but don’t end there. Offices and friendships have their own traditions. 

Choose to Enthuse 

Looking over your list, visualize each activity. Notice how your body reacts. Do you tense or relax, feel like smiling, snarling or weeping? What creates a genuine sense of enthusiasm? True enthusiasm makes us feel divine, whether we take that as a religious reality or simply a wonderful emotion. The holy days are the best times to focus on real enthusiasm, the inner source that lightens and sanctifies our lives all year. 

Apply The Three Bs 

Once you’ve figured out which traditions you love, eliminate the ones you don’t. I suggest the Three Bs: Bag it, barter it or better it. Bagging is simple: If you don’t love to do it, and you don’t have to do it, don’t do it. To barter a task, find someone who loves doing what you hate, and who dislikes something you like; then swap services. Traditions that can’t be bagged or bartered can usually be bettered. If you’re tired of shopping but really want to choose gifts yourself, use catalogs or the Internet. 

Manage That Uneasy Feeling 

As you read over the preceding paragraphs, you may have felt resistance. This is what I call social dissonance, the conditioned reaction to breaking a group rule. It’s the primary force that keeps us obeying the demands of others. Tolerating this dissonance without reacting is the key to maintaining control of your life during the holidays and beyond. 

Be Yourself, Don’t Explain Yourself 

You don’t have to prove that your preferences are right, theirs wrong. Differences are inevitable and acceptable—attempting to persuade someone to value the same things you do just perpetuates conflict. Simply hold your ground. Kindly tell everyone that you’re observing a set of customs that work for you. 

Wait ‘Em Out 

Every group has its own form of punishment. It may be that you are one of the unlucky minority of humans whose social groups are so rigid they won’t tolerate your decisions, but this can be its own gift. You’ll be free to create and follow traditions that take you to the places where you’ll find your tribe. Far more likely, though, using the season to practice living authentically will transform your holidays without causing too much ruckus in your world. 

Yes, you may ruffle more than turkey feathers. Your loved ones may fuss and fume, but guess what? They’ll get over it. They’ll probably even like it, once they see the payoff: the joyful version of you.

10 replies
  1. Julie Gries
    Julie Gries says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog that ties the spiritual practice of high holy days (whatever yours are and we all have something that is like that) to the practical things that make them affirming or overwhelming. Also thanks for the comfort that refusing some things is not going to crush certain people even if they are claim it is so!

  2. Robin
    Robin says:

    I find that these lessons, of following your authentic desires rather then not trusting your inner wisdom and trying to fulfill expectations of your perceptions of what others want, are lessons we come back to again and again. I find the Holidays are a wonderful time to dive into those challenges as there is an optimism of goodwill and also the opportunity to connect and be challenged by those closest to us and the biggest part of us, our families.

  3. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Thank you for this reminder. I have been working on boundaries to no end these past couple years. Holidays are hard for me because my nasty sister in law attempts to make my life difficult and tries to attempts to make me look bad in front of my family. I had never experienced this with my other 4 sister in laws so I was finding myself being “hooked in”. After working on boundaries with a counselor, I am no longer hooked and she ends up hanging herself. I don’t have to do anything. I am polite to her, and the only one who initiates a hello. But I don’t get hooked. No matter what she says. I can’t tell you how hard it is but I feel so good the next day that I didn’t “roll in the mud with the pigs” (as my cousin calls it). I am finally not the scapegoat and my family is finally seeing her for who she is. Now there is less tension for me during the holidays.
    I love your articles, thank you.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      This reminds me of something I heard (don’t remember where) that helps me stay out of the mud with the pigs: “Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk”. It has helped me immensely with staying sane.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] You might also have your tasks perfectly organized and still feel overwhelmed—I just went through one with a client, and frankly, I was exhausted just looking at it. If your to-do lists are sending you into an “I don’t have enough time to do all this” tail spin, it’s time to whittle that puppy down into something more manageable. This is a different process than organizing it, or formatting it in a more effective way. This is about shortening it—dumping the stuff you dread—without suffering the consequences of not doing what you actually have to get done (inspired by Martha Beck’s “Better, Barter, or Bag” it strategy). […]

  2. […] Trembling with anticipation or just trembling?  Here’s how to stay sane this holiday season. […]

  3. […] Great advice for coping with the silly season. […]

  4. […] Coach Martha Beck suggests that we take a good look at what traditions work for us, not only at home, but with […]

Comments are closed.