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How to Stay Sane During the Holidays

Sometimes you just wanna kill Christmas.

I get it. It’s all a bit crazy and manic and difficult and the ‘holidays’ feel like anything but for most of us at least some of the time.


With that in mind I thought I’d share with you a list of the most common (yes, they’re common, you’re not a freak!:)) worries that parents bring into therapy during the festive season because, like I said, it doesn’t always feel festive. And being aware of, and caring about how we feel is so very, very important.

And so, in no particular order, here are some of our most common quandaries in Q&A form:

Q: My kids want the latest PS game/ console/ iPhone / iPad and I can’t afford it!

A: Well, your kids may want the new cool ‘whatever-it-is’, but the reality may be that you cannot provide it. Some parents find this more difficult than others, I know that. Saying ‘no’ can be hard, even embarrassing, especially if it’s for purely financial reasons. I get it.  But here’s the thing – it’s OK to say no to children. It’s a good thing in fact. We are teaching them that material things don’t necessarily come easily, and they are not necessities. There is no shame. Please don’t feel shame.

Also, know that in ten years’ time it is likely that your children won’t remember what you gave them each Christmas and how much it cost. They are far more likely to remember how they felt, the time you spent with them, the atmosphere in your home, the attention they received, your mood. The label and price tag on their toy /gadget will pale in comparison to the value of their relationship with you.

Here are some compromise ideas:

1: Look through local charity shops, eBay, online bargain basements, neighbourhood swop sites. You may well find exactly what you’re looking for, if not a great substitute. Check with your friends and colleagues – they might have something they’re no longer using, or if you’re really lucky, something they’ve never used.

2: If you feel comfortable enough with them, suggest to your extended family that instead of gifts, they give small amounts of cash to your child/children. This could go towards the price of what your child wants, and they can buy it themselves later in the January sales. Which also teaches them responsibility and appreciation of value  – two birds, one stone. Plus, your family might be very relieved that they don’t have to brave the toy shops!

3: If you can afford it,  consider buying just one device for your kids to share. This might cause friction.. but learning to cooperate is part of learning to be a human! They don’t need one each, especially if they are close in age. (In fact they don’t need any of them!!)

Your kids will still love you if you don’t provide exactly what they ask for, and you will still be a good parent.

Q: How will I afford to buy all the gifts that I want to buy for everyone else?

A: By being realistic. If you are a ‘normal’ person, you have a limited amount of money. This won’t change in the next three weeks, unless you win the lottery! My suggestion is that you sit down with yourself and write a list of who you want to buy for and how much you are willing to spend.

While you’re doing this, remember that your friendship/relationship doesn’t depend on how much you spend on your gift. (If it does, then perhaps your concern belongs with the relationship, not the gift).

Another idea is to sit down with your friends and consider making an agreement either to not buy each other gifts, or to have a strict limit on how much you spend on a token gift and stick to it. You’ll most likely hear a series of relieved breathes. You’ll also possibly get a lot of creative and interesting little gifts! (My friends and I have a $5 limit – you’d be amazed at the cuteness and practicality you can get for $5!)

If you have a large family or circle of friends/ colleagues then how about a Secret Santa. Fun and thrifty!

Q: What do I buy for my partner? 

A:This might feel less magical, unromantic even, but if you are actually feeling stressed about it, and people do get stressed about it,  then ask! Ask what he or she would ideally like – or for a few ideas and you can choose from the list. And again, remember, if it’s not their ideal gift and the one thing they always wanted this is not a disaster. Your relationship will remain intact, and if it doesn’t as a result of a gift, then as with your friends, the issue for review here is the relationship, not the gift.

Q: How will I fit everyone in? Visiting, hosting, feeding??!

A: Here’s the thing, you may not fit everyone in. That’s the reality. When we accept the uncertainty around this then we experience less stress. No one expects more of you than you do of yourself. You are allowed to enjoy the Holidays: other peoples’ enjoyment is not your responsibility. This might feel alien to you, but it’s true now, as it is true at all times.

During the holidays we often end up visiting people with whom we are deeply uncomfortable. I’m sure faces are popping into your head already along with a niggling feeling of dread as you tell yourself “No, no.. I have to go see them. They haven’t seen the kids in months/since last year/ ever“. BUT – do you have to? Or it is simply tradition?

Why do we place ourselves in the presence of people we at best don’t have fun with, or at worst, have been abused by, simply because the calender says it’s ‘time’?

My suggestion here is either don’t go (or invite) or limit yourself to one hour and then arrange a reward for yourself and or the kids afterwards. The reward will give you something to look forward to and something nice to think about while you’re there…..#ugh

And seriously, if you are considering visiting a person who has abused you emotionally, physically or sexually – check with yourself. Is this really necessary? “Will there be consequences for me (or my kids) if I spend time in their presence? ” . (Yes, probably). “Might it be nice, healthy, better to break that tradition?”.  (Yes, definitely).

Wouldn’t that be a good and useful skill to teach your own children? And by default, other people who see you break with tradition, and their children? Family roles can change, even where there is resistance. It only takes one person – and it might be you!

Q: When will I get my new clothes? hair done? nails done? 


A: These may be rituals for you that you have come to think of as essentials, but ask yourself – are they really necessary? They are treats, and if you really have the money and the time, go for it. L’Oreal has a point – male or female – you do deserve it – but only if it comes stress free!! If they are actually adding to your sense of stress then these treats have become ordeals. You have a choice , do you want to increase your stress levels? Or would your time and money be better spent elsewhere having actual fun?

So finally here’s quick check list of sanity savers I’ve devised and learned from others over the years (please do feel free to add to this is the comments section – I’m utterly willing to learn more!!:)

1: Get yourself a little gift, chocolate even, wrap it, put it under the tree if you have one and wait (!!) until Christmas day to open it.

2: Arrange time alone. This might seem impossible, but it probably is possible, with organisation, and help. Even if this is just an hour away for a walk or hiding in a closet (!!) (Walk probably better though..) Exercise does enhance the mood after all!

3: Call a friend for a chat. An actual call, not an sms, not a PM, DM, Whatsapp, not an email. The online world has huge benefits of course, you’re online right now! But it can become an isolating habit. Do yourself (and a friend) a favor and give yourselves the lovely gift of real contact, geography permitting.

4: Give something away or spend a little time volunteering or doing something for an elderly or ill neighbour or relative – you choose – as long as it doesn’t compromise you. It feels good to give!

5: Appreciate what you have. Be aware of what’s working in your life, in your body. Of what’s going right. Gratitude is another thing that enhances our mood – let yourself feel it. We tend to focus on what we don’t have – and that never cheers us up!

6: If you feel sad, and most of us do at this time of year, let yourself be sad without giving yourself a hard time for not being ‘festive’. It is an emotional time, especially if you are grieving or have experienced some kind of loss. So take care of yourself. You deserve that too. And it’s good to model this to your kids.

7: Ignore the TV. You will be bombarded by adverts telling you what you ‘need’ for the holiday season. None of it is true. You may choose what you want. What you need is a whole other story and you can’t buy it from a catalogue.

Indeed, I hope you already have what you need.

With warmest wishes for the holiday season,



Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin


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