Individuals and couples’ therapist, Nancy C. Lucas, offered some wise words on navigating expectations and feelings for the upcoming season. Here’s what she had to say: The crackling fire bathes the room with a warm glow as your festive family room filled with perfectly wrapped gifts, shining holiday decor, and loving family members gathered together chat and laugh. Your favorite holiday songs are playing in the background. You then turn to your partner who is gazing at you with an expression filled with love and appreciation for all you have done to manifest this perfect holiday moment. Truly this is a day filled with love, joy and peace. Or not. Here’s the reality…according to one study, a full 88% of Americans report feeling stressed or lonely when celebrating the holidays and the average couple will have SEVEN arguments throughout the holiday season! Further, those of us who are already experiencing difficulty in our relationships, are single, divorced or grieving a loss can feel even more pressure and isolation during the “most wonderful time of the year.“ We thumb through issues of holiday magazines and catalogues, watch Hallmark movies, and compare ourselves to these images and find ourselves feeling less-than. We are convinced everyone else is having the perfect holiday season while we, the undeserving, are the only ones left out of all the joy. Sound familiar? What is it about the holidays that make us all feel like this? We know intellectually that we can’t be the only ones, but doubts creep in and we feel guilty or helpless to do anything different than what we’ve always done or what societal expectations dictate. The 2006 film The Holiday talks about the wonderful concept of being the leading actor in your own life story. What would a holiday movie starring you, with your life just-as-it-is look like? There are a few common and normal scenarios that add to our unfulfilled expectations. For instance, what if we are having difficulties in our primary relationship? Holidays ruined, right? Not necessarily! Remember that when in doubt and faced with stress, piling more on your plate in order to achieve some unrealistic idea of perfection is not the answer…self-care is. You can start by making sure in the days leading up to the holidays that you are taking deep breaths, tuning into the moment, and letting time slow down. Feel the rush and pressure recede as you refocus and go forward calmly. Schedule “white space” into your day – blocks of time with nothing to do. Lie on the couch, close your eyes and imagine the stress falling out of your body. Or use one of the many great meditation apps (I love Headspace) to help structure your refreshing break. NO GUILT ALLOWED! Instead of saying yes to every invitation, make sure you are making yourself available in your day-to-day life to allow room for the things you really care about. When we take better care of ourselves…tune in, slow down, and get grounded we become our best selves, and this trickles down to our relationships making connection more likely and therefore more fulfilling. What if we are spending the holidays alone? We can be brave and ditch the traditions and make a plan to spend the holiday exactly as we want it! Thai food instead of turkey or breakfast for dinner! Decorate the way YOU want. A pink feather tree with kelly green ornaments? Absolutely! Curate your own holiday playlist with rap, punk or country. Create your own movie marathon or watch every holiday episode of your favorite TV show. Or if you want to get out and build new connections, volunteering for a cause you care about for the holiday can also feel good and can connect us with others who share our passion. Another way to make the holiday feel special is to embrace the joy of making others feel good by creating and sharing a favorite recipe or craft and giving it to friends, neighbors or co-workers. The main idea is that you make the rules! Leaning fully into whatever comforts you are craving on that day is a wonderful way to care for yourself and make the holidays special. Maybe this can be the year where we say no to overwhelm, overbooking, and to striving for a holiday vision invented by advertisers to sell us things! Instead, we can say yes to the good enough holiday that is not about getting stuff done, but about relishing the simple moments of life. One string of lights and a take-out meal can be enough! Nancy C. Lucas is a licensed therapist specializing in counseling for individuals and couples. She has her own practice located in Essex, CT. Visit nancyclucas.com for more information.