How to Shift your Holiday Obligations into Desires

It’s December. We’re in the thick of it. There’s shopping to be done, there are 100 reasons to run to the store and fight the crowds. There’s planning to accomplish and commitments to be managed. The days are shorter AND it feels like it’s been raining for an eternity here in San Jose. You might feel like there are approximately 1 billion things you HAVE TO do, or maybe there’s just one really big thing you feel like you must do and it’s weighing heavily on you.

For many people spending time with family and others we don’t interact with on a day to day basis is one really big thing that feels like an obligation. I’ve heard this sentiment from so many and it comes in many forms — “My cousin is obnoxious, but I have to invite him,” “I don’t see any way out of going to visit my dad this year,” “I guess I have to let my mom stay with me since she’s flying out here and my brother never will,” or “My partner’s boss will notice if I don’t go to the holiday party.”

Sometimes we just want a holiday season without all the obligation and without feeling dread.

You might be reading this and thinking — “No! Really. There’s no way around inviting my mother-in- law — you can’t possibly be suggesting that I just leave her off the Christmas dinner list?”

Honestly, no, I’m not necessarily suggesting you disinvite your mother-in-law, ditch the visit to your dad, or duck out of the holiday party. I am suggesting it is a possibility! Just for a moment, this thing you’ve decided you MUST do, try and acknowledge that the world will not implode if you didn’t do it. (Did you do it? Really. Think for a moment about not doing the thing you feel you have to do?)

My guess is, your mind provided with you at least one reason why I’m wrong. This reason may be the space where there is a pathway to an identifiable value. This value may be leading you to the “no, really, I have to do it” space. If your mind didn’t provide you with a reason, and all you felt was relief, that might be worth listening to and go to work on figuring out how to say no!

Maybe your mind told you that your partner would simply never hear the end of it if you didn’t invite your mother-in-law. Maybe your mind reminded you that you do really want your dad to know you love him, even if travelling this time of year wouldn’t be your choice. Maybe your obnoxious cousin doesn’t have anywhere else to go and you don’t think people should have to be alone.

There are often values tucked in there, even when it doesn’t feel like it! You may want to be someone who honors your partner’s relationship with their family, or be the child who goes out of their way to let your parent know you love them, or be a person who is welcoming.

If you can’t find and connect with a value for thinking you have to do something, then truly consider not doing it because you don’t have to. It’s also a possibility that there are more important values which would lead you to not doing the thing. If your connection to those values are stronger, listen to them. If you don’t have the bandwidth right now to do the thing, you don’t have to.

If you CAN find and connect with a value-driving the behavior toward the thing you have to do, consider changing the language you use around it. You don’t have to do it, because now you’ve found a value that can allow you to make space for wanting to do it. It’s ok if the language of “I want to do the thing”, makes you cringe, because it can soften the internal struggle anyway.

There may be associated things that you really, really don’t want to deal with (holiday traveling, your challenging family member critiquing your food, your cousin talking about politics), so make space for both to exist. Try saying to yourself, “Even though I know [insert difficult thing] can be challenging, it’s worth it to me because [insert value you identified and feel connected to]”

When you’ve decided to do something that has some real downsides, which have resulted in you telling yourself “I have to do it” and dragging yourself kicking and screaming (internally, right?) it’s helpful to build in some things that may make it easier.

When you go visit your lonely father, is it possible to stay with someone else or in a hotel? If that’s not possible, can you schedule lunch with an old friend or a solo activity like a hike or a museum visit? When you go to the holiday party you don’t really want to go to, can you make an appearance and give yourself permission to gracefully exit after an hour? If your mother-in-law is coming for dinner, can you assign her a task she’s likely to enjoy? Or have your spouse be in charge of entertaining her for some period of time? Find a tangible strategy you can use to engage in the activity you value while also creating a buffer around the difficult part that ratchets up the feelings of dread.

It can be hard to make room for “I want to” when we’re so used to “I have to!” There is no useful way (that I know of) to completely stop our minds from telling us “I have to.” The good news is we can use “I have to” as a flag to stop for a moment and look at the possibility of a value being underneath the “I have to” and make space for “I want to.”

If you want some support in figuring out how to let go of the struggle associated with “I have to” by connecting with your values this holiday season, we are here for you. If you’re looking for support in San Jose, reach out for a consultation today!

This Holiday — Be Present Instead of Buying Presents

By Shari Grande, LCSW

Let us focus our attention on a simpler time, 2006 to be exact prior to the invention of the iPhone.

Back when meals with friends and family were more about being together and less about taking selfies of our food. We called our family on phones that were in the house, in some cases attached to walls and if we missed them, we would leave a message to be returned later that day or week. Holiday cards were thoughtfully handwritten and required the person writing to take the time to mindfully think about each person as they wrote a personal note and addressed the envelope. Perfection? Doubtful. Certainly a simpler time.

Am I suggesting you break up with your smartphone?

Not exactly. However, if you are seeking a less stressful holiday season, you might consider being mindful of the impact your phone and other modern habits has on good old-fashioned communication and your relationships.

How present are you during the holiday season? Do you feel so stressed and anxious that you are unable to enjoy time with family and friends? You are not alone if you said yes.

Here are a few ideas of how you and your loved ones can enjoy a more mindful holiday season.

Notice what is good. When someone does something nice, such as: a child smiles and waves at you, your neighbor helps you take your packages in your house, or an old friend called out of the blue and left a nice message. Allow yourself to take a moment so those positive feelings sink in. Give yourself permission to sit with those feelings and truly experience the joy of another person’s kindness.

Sometimes it truly is the little things that make life so rich.

It used to be that when we were standing in line, or at the bus stop, waiting for a child to get out of school we would talk to the humans standing next to us. Sometimes it was small talk about the weather sometimes it was deeper. Even those chats acknowledging we needed rain was a chance for connection and on occasion those kind words or a smile from another person would unknowingly brighten our moods.

Thanksgiving day is a wonderful time to stop and take a moment to remind ourselves of all that we are thankful for – we forget at times, these reminders are there every day if we choose to observe. So much is happening in an instant, if we look up and observe, watch other people, animals or nature you might just witness something wonderful.

Not in the mood to observe, that is okay.

Did you know there is no documented case of a human dying of boredom? It is okay to be bored; it is actually wonderful for our brains to have a moment to think – not watch a video or speak with a friend on speaker in the bathroom stall – just think or don’t – either way, your brain will thank you (not to mention the person in the next bathroom stall).

When you are with a person, give them your FULL attention.

We have all seen the couple out on a date, heads down backlight by the glow of their phones. Ever feel sorry for them? Have you ever been that couple? Technology just might be the one thing that keeps us from being present with those we love.

Consider trying this: Ask your friends and family to consider “checking” their phones in a central location during holiday meals so you can savor the food and company.

Hosting? Great! Make a request ahead of time with your guests explaining mealtime will be a ‘no-phone zone’ and explain you are doing this because you value each guest and their time and wish to celebrate each other. When you are with loved ones be present with them. Look at them when they are speaking, listen to them as if they are the only ones in the room. Active listening is mindful and shows you care.

Stop “should-ing” all over yourself.

The holiday season for some is a season of one obligation after another. Trying to please everyone and live up to impossible expectations can lead to feelings of resentment and exhaustion. Instead of trying to please everyone with the perfect gift, mindfully observe how your feelings of things you ‘should’ do are affecting you. Take the time and space to be present with your feelings, and identify what you want and need this holiday then ask for it. It is the rare person who wishes to run from store to store trying to locate an ideal gift.

Still not feeling it? It might be more than stress. As much as some people look forward to this time of year, for others, it is a time of struggle. Be kind to yourself, be present with your feelings and do not judge yourself. Reach out and ask for help, if you need.

This time of year can be particularly stressful for people who have challenging family dynamics or have recently experienced a break up, the death of a loved one, or another loss.

People may find themselves feeling sad or blue most of the time and for those who worry, they may notice that they are worrying more than usual. The additional pressure and responsibilities that come with this time of year coupled with shorter days and decreased sunlight can have a negative impact on one’s ability to sleep at night and/or increase the desire to isolate from friends and family.

If you are experiencing any of the above situations or feelings of if you feel this time of year is especially difficult for you, know you are not alone. Please reach out for professional help, you are worth it.

Learn more about Shari Grande, LCSW

Tips to Navigate the Most Wonderful Stressful Time of the Year

By Shari Grande, LCSW

Happy Holidays!

Let’s agree that the pressure of this time of year can take away from the meaning of the season, replacing it with stress and anxiety.  How I long for the good old days of my youth, where it was customary to wait until Black Friday to officially engage in holiday ciaos, um joy.  That went the way of wearing white after Labor Day.  How to survive, or better thrive?  Try practicing being present during the holiday season.


Pressure to ‘do it all’

Many people find the holidays (looking at you Halloween) are a time of too many commitments.  From Halloween parties at your children’s school, to office dress up events and friends’ weekend long masquerade parties to New Year’s Eve.  Good luck finding a weekend that isn’t jam packed with commitments mid-October-January 2.

This time of year can be tricky for people who want to make the holiday extra special for those they love.  Trying to do it all can lead to feeling as if you are on a treadmill trying to catch . . . what or whom exactly?


Go old school

Why not pick one event (one per person if you have school aged children) and commit to attending it and being present.  Talk to the people you are with, enjoy the event and bring a real camera so you are not tempted to look at your phone or be otherwise distracted.



It’s not just for turkeys. My husband cooks a mean bird and I love to bake.  I will be honest, some years it feels like all that time in the kitchen adds too much stress to my already full plate.  It is okay to take a step back, breathe and order pre-made meals from the local store.  Having guests?  Assign everyone who is coming to eat a shared dish or two – most people want to help out and understand that few of us have double ovens or the bandwidth to cook for a small army of people.

It’s okay to set the expectations for family.

“Uncle Bob we want you to join us, please refrain from asking Ed and Jill when they are going to get married/have a baby/cut their hair. . . We wish for everyone to feel comfortable in our home.”  Explaining to your guests (this goes double for small children) what to expect ahead of time minimizes their anxiety and your stress.


The best-laid plans

I learned to have a backup plan to my back up plan. When my children were little this would consist of a change of clothing (maybe three), favorite toys, extra food (especially if we were going out to eat), music, headphones, etc. As my children grew it meant checking in on their needs – holidays overlap with midterms and finals adding additional stress to teens and young adults’ home from college.  Notify your host ahead of time that you want to come and will need to leave early due to study schedules, etc.


Try something new — Just say “No”

It is okay: If you are overwhelmed, your partner is feeling stressed and anxious or it feels like it is all too much. Take a deep breath, grab your most cozy cow slippers, a bottle of wine, your partner and exhale. Give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays in your own unique way, and at your speed. Deflect the pressure from what others think: rather, make the time meaningful for you, your partner and your family unit.


December Holidays’ true meaning is NOT gifts:

Really, look it up. It is hard for many people to believe but gift receiving is stressful for many people for a variety of reasons.  A nice ‘gift’ for those inclined to do so might be 1:1 time with your loved one doing something they really enjoy. Knowing they have a date with you in March (a notorious lackluster month) can be fun as it provides something for them and you to look forward to.

Not everything went as you hoped or planned? Don’t worry; I have it on good authority the holidays will come again next year!


If you’d like support in San Jose, CA with figuring how to survive and thrive this holiday season, reach out. I would be happy to help!

Learn more about Shari Grande, LCSW