Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

The holidays are upon us. And that means lots of articles and blogs about how to “survive” this time of the year. Survive? Really? Is that what the holidays are about?

It seems to me that so many articles about the holiday are all about saying no. NO to spreading yourself too thin with overscheduling. NO to spending too much money. NO to letting yourself fall off the wagon on maintaining your diet.

No, no, no!

If the holidays are all about saying no, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for what’s possible!

I can’t help but wonder if we become so focused on the importance of saying no that we end up setting ourselves up to view the holidays with dread instead of anticipation. It's as if the holidays are a big danger zone we are entering into with survival depending on digging in our feet and holding firm to a rigid set of rules. That also makes me wonder if, by focusing on the no, we turn holidays into an opportunity for stress.

It’s hard to maintain balance during the holiday season. And sure, you don’t want to completely deplete yourself over the holiday season or throw your treatment regimen—and your health—out of whack.


But here’s an idea: How about shifting the focus away from saying no and toward what you can say yes to? The word no is a showstopper. It is all about what you can’t do. Yes, on the other hand, implies possibilities. Maybe not without limits, but a whole lot more possibilities than no.

In other words, how about looking at what you can allow yourself over the holiday?

What you can say YES to?

Say yes to messiness! Your house isn’t always going to be the cleanest. The dishes may sit in the sink a little longer than usual. Let go of the need to have the cleanest house on the street and have some fun.

Say yes to letting things get a little chaotic! The kids are going to be noisy. Friends and family may stop by, maybe even unannounced. The calm may be occasionally—or often—interrupted by the roar of happy people.

Say yes to a few more demands! You don’t have to run yourself ragged over the holidays. But it may be realistic to expect to be busier—with more obligations—than normal. The point is to say yes to a schedule that doesn’t leave you depleted.

No also means yes…

Now, let’s take another look at the result of having negative expectations over the holidays. If you’re viewing the holiday season as a burden and making that list of what you need to say “no” to, here’s what you may also be saying “yes” to:

Yes to feeling resentful. If you view the holidays as a burden and feel you are participating because you got dragged into it, or you’re thinking about what you could be doing rather than enjoying the moment, then the result is feeling resentful. That’s not a very healthy way to feel.

Yes to avoiding supportive people. Sure, you need your time to rest and rejuvenate. So take it. But on the other hand, are you scheduling time to be with people, to let loose a little bit and have some fun? "No" can lead to depriving yourself of time with people who care about you.

Yes to losing out on an opportunity to give. Giving is a big part of the holiday season. Giving of ourselves, and making somebody else’s day a little brighter, connects us to other people and to the world. It boosts those positive, feel-good hormones. That’s a good thing!

How to get to YES for your holiday

Here’s a formula for how to say yes to the holidays in a way that supports your self-care:

Say yes to being a little more flexible! Digging your heels in and demanding that the holidays go according to your schedule and your needs may not always be realistic. This is a time to go with the flow.

Say yes to taking a break when you need to! It’s okay to enjoy the fun from a distance or to step out for some rest when you need to. When your body asks for some rest, say yes.

Say yes to enjoying the holidays in a way that supports your wellness! This could include activity, food, socializing, or any of the other opportunities that may come your way over the holiday season. It’s not about “here’s what I have to say no to” but “here’s what I can say yes to.” It’s a little shift in words, but it can mean a lot in terms of helping you to have a more positive outlook.

Most of all, say yes to joy! ‘Tis the season to be jolly, after all. Appreciate the simple things—connecting with people, swapping memories, sharing smiles and hopefully a lot of laughs.

Now, is that a yes?

More from Dr. Gary:

Someone With My Condition Just Died. What Does That Mean for Me?
Advice. Good, Bad? How to Decide, How to Say No
When You Don't Think You Can Keep Going