Anyone feel overwhelmed at the sight of Christmas
decorations that show up the week before Halloween? I am writing this from a dominant American
Cultural perspective, but these three strategies can be applied to any time of
year where holidays and family gatherings begin to overrun the normalcy of
I don’t think anyone
can argue that Americans are bombarded by commercialism. Madonna’s hit song, “Material
Girl” topped the charts in 1984, because everyone could relate to this sad
message reflected in our culture.
Here are three strategies that are supported by brain
research so you don’t even have to feel one bit guilty about making your life a
little easier during this hectic time.
1. No one Remembers gifts, without a story behind it.
The truth is that people, even children, don’t remember
presents from year to year. The memories people log in their brain are the
stories that surround particular expereinces. We give gifts because that is the
tradition, but in reality, if you ask your children what they got for Christmas
last year, they will most likely say, “I don’t remember.” Unless the present was attached to very
strong emotional experience, the brain really has no reason to separate your
gift out from any other desired item. I
am not saying to stop giving gifts, but it is ok to scale back.
Don’t kill yourself shopping for the perfect presents. Pick a theme if you are buying for adults
(i.e. cozy throw blankets, or movie gift cards). Most people enjoy the feeling that comes with
giving, more than the feeling they get from receiving gifts. Go figure!
If you can, buy the special gift that your child asked Santa
for and a few other things from the list.
The truth is that the brain is wired for making memories from personal
experiences. It is not equipped to remember
more than 7 items at a time, think phone numbers. If you can attach a fun
experience to gift giving, like making it a little treasure hunt or slowing the
process by taking turns and really enjoying each gift, the experience will be
2. Delegate the workload (Shopping, Cooking, Cleaning Up, Decorating)
The brain is like the bank, and every decision you make during the day, or task you take on, is like taking a withdrawal from the account. The more withdrawals you make, the less energy your brain has available. So, it is a great idea to prioritize the things that need to get done, or decisions that need to be made, and then D.E.L.E.G.A.T.E. This keeps the brain bank from getting depleted and gives everyone some ownership in the entire celebration or holiday season. Children who get to have a purpose and are able to accomplish a task are more resilient as adults. Giving children responsibilities also teaches them skills necessary for adulting. A good way to start this, is to have a family meeting and make a list of the all the things that need to get done. Then let everyone choose the ones that they want to do, and it is okay for people to partner up to do certain tasks accomplished, this promotes opportunities for memory making. Lastly, set dates/times for completion for tasks, this promotes accountability and helps keeps everyone’s expectations in line.
3. Set boundaries, and say, No.
We all can quickly get overbooked during the holiday
season. Especially with social media,
people are exposed to so many events, along with the obligatory work or family celebrations.
Facebook can quickly overload the
When we say, yes, all the time, the energy that fuels
happiness is depleted, and it happens fast! By learning to set healthy
boundaries and to say, no, we gain so many health and wellness benefits,
including more energy, more confidence, more respect, more fun and actually
It is not easy, especially if you are in the habit of saying
yes to everyone for everything, but there is no time better than the present to
learn the skill of setting simple boundaries and saying no. As a family, couple and even a single person,
you can choose a concrete number of activities you will say yes to during month
of December. I actually think this is good idea to employ year-round, however,
it works like this. Decide on a number
based on your personal situation, but I suggest that for most people keeping
the maximum to 4-8 events during the month.
Then if something comes up that you just cannot miss, you must cancel
one of the other events on the calendar.
If you already have a full schedule, then you have the perfect reason to
politely decline the invitation.
These are skills that transcend all seasons and
celebrations, because each one truly does provide the opportunity to engage in
more meaningful relationships. The
holidays are about spending time together but we often get lost in the
chaos. This is just a start to shifting
from going through the motions of the holidays to creating stories and
long-term memories for yourself, your children, your family and your friends.
I hope this helps make you life a little easier, to build to
stronger relationships with loved ones and to make meaningful memories.
These materials and all discussions of these materials are for educational purposes only and do not constitute a medical or mental health advice. The presenter is not a licensed medical doctor or a licensed mental health service provider. If you need medical or mental health care or advice, you should contact your doctor or therapist or you can contact your insurance company for a referral. Copyright 2020, Dr. B’s Connections. Reproduction or use requires written consent of Dr. Kristin Beasley.