12/09/2014 12:14 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Holiday Hell 2: Toppling Tiresome Traditions

If you think the push towards the holidays feels more like Holiday Hell to you, filled with unrealistic expectations and unnecessary demands, then consider this:

If you could rid yourself of the stale traditions and old routines of the holidays that feel oppressive year after year, would you? Do you want to re-define the holidays in a more personal and meaningful way?

As in so many areas of life, we are often forced into repeating old patterns and familiar scripts that lack personal meaning or joy. Social or family traditions compel us to mindlessly repeat traditions year after year, even if those traditions cause stress, resentment or a sense of alienation from our values. We may be afraid to redefine holiday customs and just cave in to media messages or traditional routines because change may bring conflict with family or friends.

Putting aside the religious significance of Christmas or Chanukah, the demands at this time of year for joyful celebration, gift-giving and family togetherness, leave many people feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. The holiday countdown becomes less about anticipation of the holiday, and more about just pain relief once it's over.

What if you flipped the script and rewrote the holiday playbook this year? Would you be bold enough to put your personal stamp on the holiday by making it a true expression of yourself?

1. Take the Reindeer By the Horns- Expect a struggle at first if you decide to face down old habits. But reinventing ourselves is part of the cultural mindset, so why not reinvent the holiday by challenging expectations? Take a stand about what is working and what you want to change, and be firm about your intentions. Just think: if you reinvent holiday traditions, imagine the other opportunities for self-actualization that lie ahead!

2. Shake It Off--If the holidays ever feel like an inquisition, where all your life choices are questioned, judged or criticized by well-meaning relatives, this year shake it off. Take a new approach in dealing with unintended insults, or any other offensive, insensitive or clueless remark. Take a step back and ask yourself humorously, "who are these people?" Incredulity helps. Or, try responding with "I'm not sure you would understand" if the conversation goes off course.

3. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Cooking, shopping, decorating and entertaining others, while neglecting yourself might be a sign that you are looking for love in all the wrong places. People will still love and respect you if you disrupt the social order and reorient your own needs at the top of the list this year. Slice and bake cookies anyone? One year, I put store-bought Christmas cookies on a lovely platter, sprinkled them with confectioner's sugar, and they were a bit hit. Lesson learned.

4. Let It Go- Holidays often trigger complicated and difficult emotions. Who doesn't feel a little blue amidst all the holiday red and green? Don't criticize yourself if you aren't feeling cheerful. Find healthy ways to manage these feelings rather than turning to food, drink or other unhealthy ways of coping. Start a new custom that encourages people to be more open with their true emotions, instead of needing to bottle up the ones that don't fit the holiday playlist.

5. With or Without You--Part of redefining the holidays, may involve redefining what it means to be with family. If you cannot or choose not to be with your family of origin, celebrate with friends, colleagues or with people you share interests with. One patient of mine spends every Christmas eve practicing yoga with her community of like-minded students. Sometimes the bonds we create by choice are as strong or stronger than those we inherit.

Here's to no more Holiday Hell!
Stay tuned for how to tackle New Years Nerves!