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3 Ways to Create Realistic Holiday Expectations


For many people the holiday season can be seen as several weeks of stress, anxiety and obligations. Taking time to level set early on and to bring intention into your planning can make this holiday season more enjoyable for everyone.

Have Direct Conversations.

Talk to your family about what they are expecting and what they would like to do or see. Trying to assume another persons needs will set you up for failure. Taking the time to discuss what everyone is hoping for makes it easier to decide what areas need your attention. It also allows for you and your spouse to set expectations with each other and your children or other family members. It is often said that the greatest cause for heartache is failed expectations. Having discussions early on and talking through what to expect before the holiday arrives can help everyone to prepare. This is especially important when there have been major changes since the last year or if your previous holiday did not go as smoothly as expected. As a rule of thumb, the more conflict you are expecting the earlier these discussions should occur. Plan for time to talk through issues and for everyone to process the next steps or changes.

Focus on Compassion.

Listen to each other with an open mind and heart. What you may initially see as an inability to budge or to be flexible may actually be the result of a deeper issue. If your children are upset about a change in tradition, get to the source of the feelings before dismissing them. Gaining a level of understanding for each person’s feelings, concerns or issues is the first step in creating a happy holiday for everyone. Asking heartfelt questions and having compassionate conversations during times of conflict can create a situation that brings healing to underlying issues and can strengthen relationships.

Schedule Down Time.

Do not fall into the trap of over scheduling. This time of year it’s easy to plan more events that you can realistically handle. Before filling your calendar with parties, dinners or visits, schedule days or evening that will intentionally be left open. This will help you to stay focused on your priorities, to take care of yourself and to reduce your family’s overall stress level. It’s also important to allow more time for items than you initially expect. You may think that you can easily attend two gatherings in one day, but tight planning will only result in anxiety if something does not go as planned. Predicting that travel times will be longer than expected or that a meal will not be served on time will help to reduce stressful situations before they occur.

This holiday time, while busy, should be looked forward to and cherished. If you are finding that you holiday causes more pain than joy, it’s time to re-evaluate your plans and expectations. Sometimes even the smallest change can make the biggest impact.

3 Ways to Create Realistic Holiday Expectations

Amy Bellows, PhD

Amy Bellows holds a PhD in Psychology and has had the opportunity to work in various settings including leading adolescent group therapy sessions, working with victims of sexual assault, helping woman inmates adjust to post-prison life, conducting parenting education classes and assisting with drug and alcohol dependency treatment plans. The unique challenges and opportunities that come along with being a part of a step-family is a special interest of hers. Amy is currently working in the corporate environment with a interest in group dynamics and change management. You can find her on her website, or on Twitter @AmyBellowsPhD.

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APA Reference
Bellows, A. (2015). 3 Ways to Create Realistic Holiday Expectations. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2015
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