Emily Keller, Ph.D., LPC, RPT

Halloween is over and the Holidays are just weeks away. Soon, families will gather together to share food, gifts, good-cheer, and traditions. For many of us, however, the celebrations are also a time for tension and tears as holiday stress builds. Pulses quicken and patience slows as we push aside our feelings in order to keep going, race time to complete our to-dos, fret over details in pursuit of perfection, put everyone else before ourselves, and say “Sure,” when we’d rather say, “I don’t want to.”

Sound familiar? Redecision therapy offers insight into how we respond to holiday stress. Our responses are all ways in which we learn to feel OK and like we matter in our families of origin. The truth is, we all matter—have worth, value, and dignity—whether we do these things or not. Still, there are five basic plans for feeling good about who we are, and parents hand down at least one to us.

Those strategies boil down to some form of “be strong,” “hurry up,” “be perfect,” “please others,” and “try hard.” So, it’s no wonder that when we meet again, even as adults, we can fall right back into the roles and repertoires we worked so hard to overcome. That’s part of what contributes to holiday stresss.

Here are 5 things you can do to stay authentically you:

  1. Say, “No.” This can be easier said than done, especially if you think you are the only who can do it or if you are concerned about what others might think of you if you don’t do it. If you find yourself agreeing to do things you don’t want to do a lot, then reflect on the ease with which you leave yourself out of the equation and find a way to shift the balance of the relationship to include you.
  2. Say, “Yes.” Tune in to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Think and feel your way through your experiences until you know what would be really fulfilling and pleasing to you. Sometimes, the problem isn’t that we say “Yes,” too much, it is that we say, “No.” “No, I don’t have a (preference, opinion, want, need, etc.).” The reality is that we all have wants and needs, and our feelings can help us tune in to them. When you find yours, find ways to take care of them. We can stop ourselves from saying, “Yes,” if we perceive a scarcity. In reality, with what we need in human relationships, there is an abundance! In loving relationships, we cooperate with others to make sure we all have enough love, attention, etc.
  3. Say, “Maybe.” Take a breath and then take the time to slow down and think about what you want. You matter. When you take into account your thinking, feeling, and experience to determine what you want in that moment, you are affirming—to yourself and to others—that you count. Rather than give your automatic response, tune in to you so you can say what is true.
  4. Say nothing. Quite simply, not everything needs to be shared, responded to, affirmed, rationalized, justified, or defended. Choose your words, and the people you share them with, wisely.
  5. Say everything. If you find that being with your loved ones at the holidays is too painful, consider finding a therapist. Sometimes, we are so conditioned to accept what we grew up with as “normal” that it is only through sharing our stories with others that we see reality. We can’t change the narrative until we own it. We own it by sharing it with someone who listens.


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