OMG! The holidays are here. Are you ready? Good God, I’m not -- even though I swore up and down that I would be all wrapped and carded by Thanksgiving. Well, such is the way of my good intentions when life does life. I am guessing you can relate.

It’s not too late to find help. Here are six good ideas to help you that find that channel of peace and good will. Hopefully, these will bring you comfort and joy -- and, hey, a little relief, too.

Keep the lid on your box of expectations.
Many of us delight in plotting and planning the most fabulous of holiday gatherings for our loved ones. Like General Patton, our mission is to create the best holiday ever. We strategize, anticipate, and envision something that would make Santa gasp and toss superlatives around like glitter.

Yet, when it’s finally over and the door closes, do you collapse into paroxysms of tears and exhaustion because your holiday didn’t go as planned? Your step-daughter made a snide comment about her gift; the cute place cards became airborne. Aunt Minnie didn’t eat the special kumquats you found especially for her; your nephews’ pillow fight gave the living room an unintentional snowy interior and tilted the tree. And the bathroom explosion, well, you can’t even go there, but you are grateful there is 24 hour service, even on a holiday.

Holidays are chock-a-block with expectations, but, often, they fall flat, because they are no guarantees of what will unfold. Invariably, this leads to disappointment and heartbreak. We are so busy holding onto the template in our head about how everything is supposed to be that we miss the magic of the moment. And aren’t those special moments what the holidays are all about?

Rewrite history.

Did you know that you are allowed to change the rules, alter the plans, create anew, and do something different? That’s right; you are no longer locked into traditions that have grown moldy and outdated. You can be an agent of change and craft your holiday season to fit your family’s ages, attention spans, and temperaments.

What might work for you and your family? Is it a day decked out in pajamas as you watch old movies, play games, and hang out at home? Or, perhaps, a holiday pancake breakfast, caroling the neighborhood on bikes, a jingle bell run, or make-your-own ice cream sundaes?

Whatever you choose, the easy, comfortable times shared together create happy feelings and precious memories – and that is what we remember and hold dear, year after year.

Include yourself on your list.

I know it sounds counterintuitive; holidays are all about giving and thinking of others. However, if you are not ok, your family is not ok.

• Take time to recharge; you are the one who makes it merry and bright.

• Learn to protect yourself. Make frequent use of the holy No; agree to do only what is possible and that which brings you genuine happiness and satisfaction. Practice “Let me sleep on it” and “Thanks, I’d love to help/participate/attend, but not this year, I am already committed (to myself)”

• Lead by example. Delegate, share, and work together. My favorite story along this line is a multi-generational family that gathers yearly around the holiday table where they have established a co-operative tradition. Everyone brings a part of the holiday meal and everyone helps. On each place card, there is a task written. The only ones exempt from tasks are infants and pregnant moms. For example, grandpa’s task is to remind the hostess to plug in the coffeemaker after dinner. The small one’s job is to bring the coffee spoons to the table. Those who brought the appetizers are to clear and clean up after the appetizers. A trio of happy workers gets dish duty this year. And so forth. No one has to do everything and everyone feels they are a part of the holiday celebration. It happily works for all.

Prepare for emotional hangovers.

Holidays are usually the annual call to gather with family, in-laws, long lost relatives, ex-spouses, step-children and other one-time additions such as the fellow who just transferred into your office or the international student far away from home. The holiday table vibrates with assorted personalities, stylistic differences, and years of interpersonal politics. It can be dicey. Historically, people know where the hot buttons are and how to engage them for emotional lift-off.

It can take a third cup of eggnog, a snarky expression, or a misplaced comment, and k-a-b-o-o-m, there is spontaneous combustion and bourbon balls are flying. Some one feels misunderstood, ignored, or insulted and they’re off on a roller coaster of emotions.

For quick first aid, apply insight. Remind the wounded one that there are choices. Yes, it was done to them, but they can choose how to respond to the emotional hit and learn how to protect themselves from the insensitivities and unconsciousness of their sometimes jerky relatives. The three A’s help:

• You can change your attitude. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?
• You can choose to take action. A hallmark of high self-esteem is the ability to be assertive. Are you able to state your needs? Can you say no and not feel guilty?
• You can learn to accept what is. And take the high road and walk away.

Replace the material with meaning.

This year, consider plugging into the significance of the season and make choices that touch the heart. Perhaps, you gift one another with something creative. Or you might pass along something that you value, complete with the story of why it is important to you and why you want your loved one to have it now. Maybe, you surprise your parents with a video that shares all of the family favorite stories. Or you gift your children with a letter that tells them what you honor in them.
Give the gift that will be treasured; give the gift from your heart.

Remember to ho ho ho.

The holidays are not always the easiest of seasons. There are the dreaded expectations. No one wants to disappoint the ones they love. The economy has been in a funk; jobs are at a premium; loved ones are off at war; and natural disasters have been ongoing. Life is very different for many.

Still, there is something special about this holiday season that gets to even the Scroogiest of us all. This year, find the joy and use your good heart to make a difference in the simplest and happiest of ways. That, after all, is the whole point of this season of light: to share our heart glow with one another.

As for me, now that I understand what steps I can take to make my holidays brighter, I am now able to shelve my dastardly thoughts about a certain, air-filled, bobbling six-foot, music-playing, illuminated-all-night Santa in my neighborhood. Oh, the joys of peace.

Author's Bio: 

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today’s Fast-Paced Whirl. Her next book, Help, It’s Dark in Here, will be released in 2012. You can learn more about Adele and her thinking at