Holiday Stress — Changing the Experience: Part 2

In the last blog, I talked about how unmet expectations for the holidays are set-ups for being disappointed. Then, there was a suggestion about changing expectations.

One reader asked me, “Why should I have to change my expectations? Why can’t my family be more respectful? Why do they argue about everything?”

These are great questions, and one we all can easily relate to. Why, indeed?

Another way to describe what happens is that we get “triggered”.

What does that actually mean?

When we get triggered, we can immediately respond in the ways that we have repeated many times before. In fact, the animal part of our brain creates the fight or flight response and we are prone to follow it.

It’s like the behavior from someone else can “make” us behave a certain way, with our brain pathways aiding and abetting our reactive behavior. We have then reacted in a familiar way, but not necessarily the way that we want to act.

There actually are answers to the question that the reader posed, and I think we all know it already, but don’t want to accept it: We can’t make other people change. Only they can do that. The only one we can change is ourself. I know that is very frustrating. However, it’s the truth and we all know it.

Having expectations that we know, deep down, are not going to be met, causes us to be miserable. We all wish that the others in our family would change so that we can have the family we wish we had. Really, though, we have the family that we do have. Nothing more. Nothing less.

So now what?

When we step back and think hard about it, we can fairly accurately predict what is likely to happen in our family gatherings. The drinkers will drink, possibly too much. The anxious ones will be anxious. The stressed ones will be stressed. The whiners will whine. The loving and calm ones will be loving and calm. The kids will get over-excited, over-tired or both, and cry. There will likely be fun and also drama.

That sounds terrible! But really, it’s terrible only if you expect other things. So again, change your expectations and change your experience.

How does that work?

Let’s look at some examples:

If you expect that the children will get over-excited and over-tired, plan on having them take a nap or, at least, rest for a while during the festivities. They’ll probably still get over-excited and over-tired, but you did what you could. It’s just what happens when you’re a child. And you can accept it and realize the excitement is something you may remember from your own childhood.

If you are hoping that a heavy-drinker doesn’t drink too much, just predict that he or she will drink too much and figure out ways to stay calm about it.

You and your partner can have a little game of Crystal Ball—let’s predict how __(name)__ will act. Then, when you’re correct, you score a point. Whoever wins the most points doesn’t have to do dishes for one night. If you both win, get take out and eat out of the boxes. (Just kidding, but you get the idea. Just go with it but try to have a bit of humor or fun with it).

Or, before the events, talk about why you think someone acts the way they do (be as charitable and compassionate as you can). Then, look for things that confirm your guesses or disprove your guesses. Talk about it later.

Both of these “games” are based on the idea of you being able to stand back a little, or detach, from the scenario, and observe what’s going on. That stance has the power to change what you do next. And that’s really important.

You will tend to get less reactive to behavior that you don’t like.

You can also strategize about when to take a break (such as taking a child for a walk) if someone is bothering you.

All of these are about changing your reactions, on purpose, and from a position of strength. You will feel better about yourself and about family gatherings, as a result.

Step back-Observe-Act from Strength

From strength, you could decide to do nothing except continue to observe.
From strength, you might decide to be curious.

From strength, you can decide to change the direction of the conversation, ask the drinker to help you do something, take a walk, remember gratitude for your partner, leave, or any number of other things.

The idea is that you don’t get caught up in the old way, and instead, have a different response to the family.

The spirit of the holidays is connection, love, fun and gratitude. When you have realistic expectations and also try to introduce some lightness into your mindset about whatever may happen, you make room in your mind for gratitude and appreciating those things about people that you can overlook if you get reactive and into old patterns.

If you’ve followed this discussion, you now have a pathway to creating the holidays that you want. You also have some strategies to be the YOU that you want to be at the holidays.


1. In preparation, think about you think things will go, and then see if you’re right. Make it a game, to inject fun into the experience.

2. During the events, Step back–>ObserveAct from Strength
Acting from strength means that you have thought through what you are going to do, and then do it because you’ve decided it’s the right thing. Remembering also, that we change our own reactions and not others’ behavior.

Send me questions or comments to

With love,

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