Getting the Most Out of the Holiday Season

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It’s that time of year again, and by the title I don’t mean how to get the most stuff- but how to get the most enjoyment out of the season.  Many look forward to this time with anticipation, excitement, and good memories, but most of us know that the holidays can leave us feeling disappointed, sad, let down, and stressed.  I thought I would pass along a few tips that might make your holiday season better, so here are a few things to think about.

1. What do you (really) love about the holidays?  Is it time with friends and family?  Parties?  Shopping?  The food?  Presents?  Knowing just what it is that you enjoy most can help you to prioritize those things, rather than filling time with things you can do without.

2. What are your “must haves”?  Is it a Christmas Eve church service?  Black Friday shopping?  A special dinner?  Watching Christmas Vacation or Elf for the 137th time?  Cutting down a live tree vs. grabbing one last-minute from the grocery store?  Make a list of the non-negotiables, in order if you can, which can help you to make sure they get included in your plans.  And speaking of planning, try to do so in advance when possible.  If you’re going to a show, find out the specifics and purchase tickets.  If you’re planning on serving something from a certain shop, call and reserve it ahead of time (I tried to pick up crab cakes from a local place on Christmas Eve day last year without a reservation and it didn’t work out so well).  If you want to go to a particular restaurant for a Christmas Eve or New Year’s dinner, make a reservation as early as possible.

3. What can you cut out?  If you’re not crazy about the company holiday party, cooking 17 things for Christmas dinner, or driving around to every relative’s home on Christmas day, then don’t do it.  Say no.  Decline an invitation to a party, ask for help with dinner (or don’t host it, if you don’t want to), or make other plans to see relatives.  Some families even have more than one Christmas, so as not to cram too many things into one day.  As the number of things you have to do or responsibilities you have go up, chances are your enjoyment will go down.

4. Find balance.  Most people enjoy being social over the holidays- going to parties, hosting them, going out to dinners,or visiting with friends and family.  They also enjoy sitting in front of a fire or in front of the TV in pajamas.  Try to make time for all of these things, keeping a good mix of time with your partner, your children, extended family, and alone.  Get in some activities, but include some down time as well.  And keep in mind that you may still have keep up with work, clean the house, and take care of yourself (You may want to keep up your gym routine if you’re indulging in food, Christmas cookies, or adult beverages).  Lack of balance tends to lead to stress, disappointment, and frustration.

5. Don’t overdo it.  I tend to make lists of things to do over the summer and over the holidays as a family, and I admit that sometimes I get bummed out if not much of it gets crossed off.  BUT, I try to keep in mind that these lists are aspirational.  It gives me an idea of things we all might like to do together.  You could pick any three things from your list, make a top three, or take a vote.  Just remember that you can’t do it all.  You can’t watch every Christmas movie, go to every party, or make every Christmas cookie in existence.  I mean, you can- if that’s all you want to do.  See # 4.

6. As hard as it is, don’t expect perfection.  This is where most people get tripped up, and I have read countless articles about it.  We all want the perfect Christmas morning, Christmas dinner, or to get our kids the perfect present.  But inevitably, people will be late, someone will come down with a stomach virus, or our kids will absolutely hate the present we thought they would love most.  We will also wait in traffic and long lines; family members will fight; food will get over done; and we most likely won’t get that White Christmas we so hoped for.  Know this.  Expect it.  Understand that perfection isn’t real and be ready to roll with the punches.  When you’re realistic, you won’t be so phased when things go wrong.

I hope this list is helpful as far as getting into the right mindset for the holidays.  I hope they are as perfect as can be; are filled with love, good health, and happiness; and leave you and yours with tons of great memories.  In fact, some of my favorite holiday and vacation stories involve things that did not go as expected (and there have been many).  And if you haven’t seen Christmas Vacation, I highly recommend it.  Take care and best wishes for 2015.

Dr. Jesse Matthews is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Chester Springs, PA.  He helps people of all ages to address many kinds of issues.  You can view his Psychology Today profile here.  For any questions or to arrange an appointment, please contact him at 610-482-4496 or



Published by Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a practicing psychologist and director of Matthews Counseling & Coaching, a private practice in Chester Springs, PA. I work with clients 18 and older, and my specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's. Our group works with individuals from tween through older adult, helping them with a variety of life issues. Check out the practice website for information on other clinicians and their services: .

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