Your Holiday Stress Has Nothing to do With Your Mother-in-Law

By Marianne Clyde

As lovely as the holidays can be, this whole time of year just seems to pile on the stress, doesn’t it? There are deadlines at work that need to be met before the end of the year. It’s easy to find yourself obligated to holiday parties every other evening; holiday cards need to be sent out; then there’s the gift buying, which adds to the stress, not only because of the number of gifts you want to get, but it adds to your overall financial worries. Add in the extra baking, cooking and unhealthy eating as well as overindulgence in alcohol.  Remember that you have to consider the crowds of people coming to your house; some of them, you don’t even like, but you have them over because it’s expected; and top it off with the flu that everyone seems to be bringing with them. Or on the other end of the spectrum, you may have experienced a significant loss this year, making these very stressful times extra sad or lonely for you.

What can you do?

The first thing to realize is that while there clearly is a lot going on around you, it’s not the events in themselves, or even the people, that cause you stress, but your thinking about the flurry of activity and potential obligations. Other people’s opinions of how you decorate your house, who’s cooking, whether or not you actually need to send out cards are just that: opinions. And they are not necessarily your opinions.

Traditions and rituals can be fun and create great memories. They can be grounding, particularly for children. Yet it’s important to remember that the relationships are most important, not the rituals and traditions or expectations of others. If it stops being fun and meaningful, and if the memories that are being created are negative instead of positive, it’s time to do something differently.

People often resist change, thinking that they are giving up on something that has always been cherished, so they dig their heels in deeper and grit their teeth, hating the entire process. Remember, the relationships are important, and if you aren’t happy, healthy and energized with good will, then the best-laid plans are going to fall flat.

Here are some things to consider doing differently:

  1. Look at your holiday traditions with a critical eye. If you don’t enjoy them and you are only doing them because “it’s expected,” it might be time to call it quits.
  2. Ask yourself what happens if you stop sending cards or baking so many cookies? Can the practice be adjusted in some way to make it easier and more enjoyable? (Perhaps only sending cards to those you haven’t seen all year.)
  3. Could it be OK to stop travelling to everyone else’s house and have anyone who would like to, come to you?
  4. Could dinner be a potluck instead of a burdensome chore?
  5. Paper plates? Picnic? Buffet? (Instead of formal dinner.)
  6. Might it be possible to choose which gatherings are most important for your family, career, or community? Put those on your calendar and write a lovely thank you note to the others, sending your regrets that you can’t do it all.
  7. Which decorations are a must, and which can take a break? Consider decorating every other year.
  8. Try some new healthier recipes, with some of the “must-have” traditions scattered in.
  9. Have a family gift exchange where everyone draws one name instead of giving to everyone. OR have everyone bring a wrapped gift of a certain price range and play a gift exchange game where you draw numbers and open them one at a time, with the option to choose the open gift or a wrapped one.
  10. If you struggle with getting in fights due to touchy subjects, take control of the conversation by playing a group game like Pictionary or Balderdash, in which everyone can participate. OR put conversation starters on pieces of paper in a basket about funny topics or stories. “Tell us an embarrassing story from High School.” “Who was your favorite teacher and why?” “If you won the lottery, what would you do?”
  11. Make mealtimes more interesting by baking little fortunes or blessings or questions on a small piece of paper in the muffins. Or use place cards to mix up the seating a bit. Or go around the table saying what you appreciate about the person on your right.
  12. Remember if things get heated, you can take a deep breath, take a short walk outside, divert the conversation to another topic. And you can quietly, just leave the room.
  13. Your house, your rules. Your kids, your rules. Your time availability, your rules.
  14. Focus on what you treasure about each person and tell them.
  15. It’s sometimes the best option to say, “No, thank you.” (You don’t have to explain.

Invite someone over or suggest going out to a restaurant for a change.

  1. Create a new tradition in memory of the person you lost. Maybe visit people in the hospital who have no one.
  2. If you don’t have your kids due to a divorce, plan to get them another day, and in the meantime, make special adult plans doing something you really enjoy that you can’t do with kids.
  3. Tell someone you trust that you are struggling. Get help when you need it.
  4. Perhaps going on a trip over the holidays would be a nice distraction, if it’s difficult to be in the same house where all the old traditions used to take place.

Remember to maintain your own self-care routines: Eat healthy when you can. Resist overindulging in alcohol. Get your regular 7-8 hours of sleep, when possible. Drink plenty of water. Meditate every day. Look for things to be grateful for.


Marianne Clyde, award winning therapist and business person, is an expert in Mental Health in the workplace. Speaking to businesses and associations about empowerment, team building and relationship networking, she is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in practice for over 27 years, energizing speaker and dauntless world traveler. She lived in Japan for over 8 years and has spent time in at least 20 developing countries, teaching about recovery from trauma, personal empowerment and interpersonal relationships.

She has met with child soldiers, amputees and rebel army leaders in Sierra Leone, visited with victims of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, taught doctoral students in Afghanistan about the effects of stress on mental health and spoken to large gatherings in Pakistan after visiting with earthquake victims in the Northwest Frontier. After partnering with the former Ambassador from Malawi to Japan, to establish village maize gardens and other projects, the Ambassador had this to say, “Marianne is an excellent trauma counselor, networker, change agent and revolutionary. Through her initiatives, the poor children and women of Malawi have realized new lives. Child mortality has been mitigated by the provision of clean borehole water. Hospitals are no longer overcrowded by children who were admitted due to hookworms. School going rates have doubled as no child is soaked while at school. In return Malawian women call Marianne ANAPHIRI meaning a woman from the great clan.”

She has written and published numerous articles, appeared on radio and television worldwide, commenting on topics ranging from gun violence to having a happy marriage. Host and producer of her own TV shows, she has also hosted a call in radio show and has produced Moments of Mindfulness Meditation CD.

After launching 2 best-selling books, Peaceful Parenting: 10 Essential Principles and Un-Leashed: Practical Steps to Get Your Life Unstuck, she has now released her most powerful book to date, Zentivity™: How to Eliminate Chaos, Stress and Discontent in Your Workplace. As chaos, reactivity and polarization reign, whether your workplace is in politics, business or home, she recognizes and advocates for mental health in the workplace. She encourages readers to establish a strong internal locus of control, so as not to get knocked off balance by the winds of opinion, changes in the economy or upheaval in politics. Only then, she asserts, can you truly make the changes that need to be made. Only then, can you even begin to be the leader you are called to be.

Marianne is the founder of the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy, in Warrenton, VA, and the founder of Be the Change Foundation, empowering and equipping women in need to build successful home-based businesses.

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