THE BLOG
11/06/2014 11:05 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2015

6 Essential Tips for Surviving the Holidays: Let the Games Begin!

Once again, the holidays are upon us. The ostensibly joyous stretch of time (about 63 days) between Halloween and January 2 can be a festive time for many. But for others, it can be a miserable brouhaha of high drama and anxiety.

But interestingly, most of the holiday angst we experience is partly self-inflicted because our fear of rocking the hallowed walls of tradition and social expectation is immense. Nobody likes to be a crabby "Grinch." The unavoidable pull to comply with the sanctified doctrines of the holidays is highly influential to say the least.

But the holidays do not have to be so stressful. If we open up our minds a little bit and heighten our awareness to how blindly we subscribe to holiday dogma, we may be able to alter our reaction to it. So, if indeed the drama is partly self-inflicted, then we have the power to "un-inflict" ourselves and let go of the traps we easily fall into.

Remember, "Your mind is like a parachute, it only works if it's open." -Frank Zappa

Here are some tips:

1) Let go of perfectionism and the need for control:
Don't expect family gatherings to go smoothly where everyone gets along perfectly all the time. It's an impossible prospect. The same goes for holiday decorations, travel arrangements and buying the perfect gift for everyone, etc. It is unnecessary to spend a lot of money on gifts, especially if you don't have the resources. Instead, set practical budgets for gift buying, travel and such. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive. Accept that temporarily saving money and spending modestly is okay. Accept that nothing will go perfectly because nothing ever does. Accept that you cannot control your family or anyone for that matter.

2) Don't try to be someone you are not:
Don't feel obliged to be merry and cheerful all the time. That creates a lot of undue stress and makes you feel guilty because you assume that since everyone else is happy all the time, which they are not, you should be too. If you are "feeling down" during the holidays, try to be cordial with family and friends without having to fake it. There is no reason to act falsely cheerful and in contrast, no reason to be a "Grinch." If you can, focus on the positives of the holidays and remain as neutral as possible. And, if someone questions your lack of enthusiasm, politely explain (choose your own courteous reply here) that you are a little under the weather but will be feeling better tomorrow.

3) Don't try to be a saint:
Don't pretend you have a halo over your head. Don't say "yes" all the time when you really mean "no." Otherwise, you will end up overextending or over-committing yourself with too many obligations to fulfill. This may cause you to go into overwhelm. In reality, no one is keeping score except, perhaps you. Set realistic expectations regarding obligations, how much time you spend with family, etc. Set clear boundaries and limits with others about what you can and cannot do. It's okay to say "no" sometimes and decide that you cannot satisfy everyone all the time.

4) Don't romanticize past holidays:
Don't fall into the trap of comparing past holidays to current ones. When you compare, you despair and it will undoubtedly lead to serious holiday blues. Don't dwell on good times from the past that cannot be recaptured. Since you are not going in that direction, there is no reason to keep looking back. Accept and acknowledge that as the years pass, rituals and traditions change, family members move away, loved ones pass on, etc. The past is in the past. Accept that every year it will be a little different, and that's okay.

5) Don't set yourself up for failure:
Don't set yourself up for major disappointment by making too many big-ticket "New Year's" resolutions that never get met. Don't shoot too high for major changes in your life that are unrealistic. At first, try to aim for smaller and more attainable ones. For example, don't say "I want to lose weight next year." That's too broad and not easily measurable. Say, "By April 15, 2015, I am going to lose 10 pounds," etc. Also, try writing the New Year's goals down on paper. The likelihood of you actually achieving them increases if you transfer the idea from thought to paper. Keep the list close to you and refer to it every day.

6) Don't lose sight of the true message of the holidays:
Many of us end up "hating" the holidays partly because we forget the true nature of the season. In actuality, the holiday season is really more about reconnecting with friends and family and being good to each other. It has little to do with exotic spending, perfectionism and looking happy all the time. If we forget this fundamental detail, the holidays become a stressful, expensive, obligatory exercise we all have to grudgingly plow through every year.

And lastly, limit alcohol consumption and other mood-altering substances. Alcohol is a depressant. If you are depressed during the holidays and you are drinking alcohol, you are treating depression with a depressant. Bad idea.