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Mental Health

This Holiday Season, Focus on Do's Instead of Don'ts

This Holiday Season, Focus on Do's Instead of Don'ts

RODNAE Productions

How about approaching the holidays with an open mind, open to possibilities and joy? Here's how to move from "I hope I don't" to "I hope I do."  

Yes, you guessed it. Another article about getting ready for the holiday season. After all it’s that time of year, both for the holidays and for articles about the holidays.

I am hearing a lot of talk about the upcoming holidays, and I suspect you are too. And I can’t help but notice how often the words “I hope I don’t” pop up in these discussions. First, the usual hope-I-don’ts that seem to go hand-in-hand with the holidays:

“I hope I don’t eat too much.”

“I hope I don’t overspend.”

“I hope I don’t wear myself out.”

Some of my clients have added some additional holiday concerns to the conversation:

“I hope I’m not lonely.”

“I hope I keep my cool.”

“I hope I stay sober.”

So lots of hopes for the holiday season. But here’s a question: Do these sound like hopes for a joyful holiday season? Or hopes to get through it with as little damage as possible?

I certainly understand that the holidays can be challenging. And it makes a lot of sense to want to proactively stay on top of your physical and emotional wellness, as well as your finances. Of course.

But all that hope-I-don’t thinking can result in lots of eye rolling, gritting your teeth, and a general sense of dread over the approaching holidays.

So here’s another question: if your holiday planning is all about what you hope not, where’s the fun?

A balanced approach

What I am proposing is an approach to the holiday season that balances being realistic with being open to the joy that the holidays can bring. Here are some ideas:

Take a look at what you need to enjoy the holidays

Think about whatever it will take to maintain your physical and emotional wellness. What you eat or drink, activity level, time with people. Consider both what you need to be happy during the holidays, and what might be too much.

Be happy with 80% 

One hundred percent is an unrealistic expectation. Whether that means 100% compliance with your diet, 100% participation, or 100% anything else. After all, it’s the holidays. Instead, settle for getting things about 80% the way you want them. Cut yourself some slack. Decide what’s most important, and be okay with letting yourself off the hook. Give yourself some wiggle room without placing your wellness at risk.

Plan in advance 

You’ve heard this advice before, I am sure. But it probably bears repeating that the more you plan for the holidays in advance, the more likely you are to be comfortable that things will go smoothly. Decide what you can spend. Create a schedule that will ensure maximum enjoyment. This might mean seeking opportunities to be with people, if you’re concerned that you might have a lonely holiday. Or it might mean deciding what opportunities to say no to if there are too many coming your way. Again, aim for getting it 80% right.

Practice laughing 

Or at least smiling real big. If you looked in the mirror while you went through your list of “I hope I don’ts” for the holiday season, you would most likely see an expression of worry on your face, if not a big frown. Is that the way to go into this season of joy? I think not! So how about practicing talking about the holiday with a big smile on your face? Smile, and your brain can’t help but think happy thoughts. Give it a try. Start by laughing at yourself for sounding like such a Scrooge!

Make a list of “I hope I dos.” Hang onto that smile, and focus your energy on what you hope does happen during the holiday season. Good food (and on your diet plan), time with people you want to spend time with, some peace and quiet here and there to keep life in balance. What else do you need to have a great holiday? Add it to the list. Get it on the schedule.

The holidays are coming! A time to celebrate with the people you love, to have fun, to relax. And I hope you do!


Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. His book, “The Power of Closure: Why We Need It, How to Get It, and When to Walk Away,” will be published by Tarcher Perigee in the spring of 2024. His website

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