The holiday season for many is one of joy and celebration. For others it can be a struggle. The pressure is on to “be happy.” This is a time when we are supposed to celebrate, laugh, connect with family and friends, and have a jolly good time. If all this goes as expected, we are very fortunate indeed. Many people have an amazing holiday season. Many do not.

The holiday season can seem to be an “All or Nothing” time. Either everything is great—family, gifts, parties, friends—or there can be a seasonal dread for a variety of reasons. Some stressors include financial issues, the death of a loved one, family-dynamic changes caused by separation and/or divorce and the challenges they can cause. For many people, there is the “mandatory” family get together, where every year signifies a possible new fight or disagreement.

The reason we feel overwhelmed or stressed may not be something we can change. We can however change the impact that it has on our lives. We may not be able to change a situation, but we can change our perception and reaction to it, and by doing so, we can feel less stress and more joy.

Whenever we give ourselves an all-or-nothing scenario, it means there is no choice. If we perceive what we’re facing as either black or white, good or bad, we have no room for creativity, flexibility or compassion for ourselves or others. When we tell ourselves “I must make this dinner this way, I must bake or else, I must give these gifts…” we can be setting ourselves up for disappointment. Our very expectations are often the cause of our distress. If we tell ourselves we are “supposed to” feel happy and we do not, this conflict can cause incredible stress. We are asking ourselves to be something we are not. It’s not possible to force ourselves to feel a certain way just because we want to or someone else believes we should feel that way because it’s holiday season.

We can do some things to create more well-being, though. We can choose to accept how we feel and be kind and compassionate towards ourselves. By doing this, we will feel better, and it gives others an invitation to be themselves, too.

This year, there is a gift that cannot be bought or sold, but can be given from the heart—to ourselves and to others. Virginia Satir, a family therapist, says the greatest gift she can imagine is to be “seen, heard, understood and touched” by others. “The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and touch another person,” said Satir. “When this is done, I feel contact has been made.” Contact, real connection, is the path to well-being any time of the year.

Maxine Fisher M. Ed., MTA, RCC is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who works in private practise with families, children and adults. Maxine can be reached at 250-686-7582 or web link