Destress For The Holidays With Decision Science

Decision Science helps us understand the real reasons why people may exhibit (what seems like) irrational behavior in making decisions. So, we put that lens toward the holidays to, hopefully, help people understand why the same issues keep coming up. Every. Single. Year. 

What irrational biases might be standing in the way of truly enjoying your holiday season? Check out common situations below to learn what unconscious behavior might be driving you and what to do about it. 

Situation #1: Just like when I was little, I always get into the same stupid fights with my (sister, brother, mother, cousin, father, etc.) every holiday season. 

Feeling like a kid again, but not in a good way? You may be experiencing Holiday Regression. Emotionally, you’ve returned to an earlier stage of development and are triggering the same exhausting conflicts you’ve always had with specific family members and employing old coping mechanisms to manage the situation. 



Coping Strategies: Self-care for you (deep breath, walk outside if needed) and Empathy for them, if you can muster it. 

Situation #2 My (significant other, partner, parents, etc.) never seems to like the gifts I get. 

You may be a poor gift-giver because you’re engaging in False-Consensus Bias. It’s when webelieve that other people think and like the same things we do. We overestimate how normal we really are. We’re assessing the gift from our own perspective and not theirs. For example: Giving your mom a red teapot because you love red even though there’s not one red item in her home. 

Coping strategy:ASK questions or give a gift card, you lovely weirdo. 

Situation #3: Without fail, my (cousin, neighbor, uncle, etc.) will get under my skin this holiday season. 

You’re probably “suffering” from some Confirmation Bias – looking for evidence or behavior that confirms your already-formed beliefs and ignoring evidence that refutes them. This means your favorite uncle will delight you, no matter what he does, and your snooty cousin will still seem like a jerk, no matter how enlightened she’s become since you last saw her. It’s because you’re only looking for behaviors that confirm what you already think of them, good or bad. 

Coping strategy: Expand your mind. Be open to new information presented in the moment. See, your cousin’s doing yoga! That’s got to be good, right? 

Situation #4: At some point, I will feel bad that I didn’t get my (hairdresser, optometrist, dog walker, etc.) a gift when they gave me one. 

Ooof! This feels bad. You may be suffering unnecessary guilt based on your Reciprocity Bias – the desire to reciprocate, in kind, an action done toward you. It’s in your DNA to feel this way.   

Coping Strategy:Gratitude. Graciously say thank you, unless they give you those longing, puppy dog eyes indicating they were expecting something in return. Then give a HUGE tip. (But not to your optometrist because that would be awkward.) 

Situation #5: No matter what my intentions are going in, I ALWAYS over indulge at holiday gatherings. 

Alcohol myopia is a thing! Blame the booze. (Yes, this is real.) Turns out that drinking makes people short-sighted and reduces our ability to resist temptation. This might be a no-brainer, but that’s why you eat too much when you drink too much, no matter what your intention was going into that holiday party. 

Coping strategy: Moderation or, if you can handle it, abstinence. 

Situation #6: I always seem to get the same gifts for the same people every year. 

Some socks for Grandpa. A bottle of wine for the neighbor. A candle for the teacher. For many of us, gift giving can become routine because of our Default Bias, which is the tendency to do things the way you’ve always done them. We do this because it’s easy and also helps our Risk Aversion to getting it wrong. 

Coping Strategy: None! Grandpa always needs new socks. (But always include a gift receipt, just in case.)


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