Let’s go down holiday memory lane. Remember when you were a child and anticipated the holidays with excitement? Remember counting the days till Christmas, and how getting there seemed like an eternity? And then, when the special day arrived, how you relished every moment because you didn’t want it to end?

Fast-forward to the present, and adulthood. Too often we hear people snidely say things like, “Well, are you getting ready for the holidays?” The implication is that we need to be seriously concerned about getting behind on holiday tasks that “must” be done. Do you feel a little stress when you hear this one?

Or how about, “The holidays? I just hope I can get through them!” It makes the holidays sound like some horrible trauma that must be endured.

Then there’s, “The holidays? I’m sure glad they’re over!” You’d think the person survived a true disaster.

How did Americans go from being giddy, joyful children who couldn’t wait for the holidays to arrive to “Bah! Humbug!” adults who can’t wait until they’re over? How did the holidays go from a time of peace and joy to a time of stress and frenzy?

Americans still believe in the joy of the holidays depicted in commercials and ads — people smiling and laughing and enjoying one of the best times of the year with loved ones. But the gap between that belief and reality seems to be widening.

It’s bad enough that so many people don’t get the joy, relaxation and fun they grew up believing the holidays were supposed to be about. But on top of that, there’s the added pressure and stress to surround yourself with tempting and calorie-laden foods while being expected to have heroic levels of control over them.

It’s time to step back and take a closer look at this insanity with the help of a few key questions.
Are you anticipating the holidays with joy or dread?
Are you doing the things you want to do during the holidays, or are you just doing the things you think you ought to do?
Are the things you’re doing making you feel relaxed and joyful or stressed and grumpy?
Are you eating because you’re hungry, eating what you really want, and feeling in control of your food choices, or are you feeling compelled to eat out of tension or ravenous hunger?
Are you feeling like a child looking forward to beautiful experiences during the holidays, or have you lost that joy?

If your answers to these questions lean toward the negative, it’s time to take charge of your holidays — not just to better manage your eating and weight, but for general health and happiness. Stress, anger, poor eating and a lifestyle lacking in playful activity can ruin your holiday and, long term, wreak havoc on your life, because how you handle the holidays can spill into other areas.

The tradition of a holiday season of warm and happy feelings (whatever that means to you as an individual) is worth fighting for. Think about what you would need to change (your thinking, your approach to food, your relationship with yourself and others, for example) so that the holidays could again be the way you really want them to be. Then have the courage to make those changes now. Don’t worry about what’s expected of you or what others might think. Other people may complain or disapprove now, but most of them will eventually get it and admire your choices.

Here are some tips to help you take back the holidays:
• Master the art of saying “no.” Too often people say “yes” to things because they’re afraid to say “no.” Think of all the things that are important to you that you push aside because you say “yes” more often than you should.
• Bring your child back to the holidays. Think of something about the holidays that you treasured when you were young and re-create it as closely as possible.
Make time to savor all the wonderful moments of the holidays. Stop many times along the way to observe and relish.

In a lifetime, there are actually a precious few holiday seasons. Why waste them with stress and worry? The next time someone wishes you “Happy holidays!” let it be a reminder that you are the one who can make it so.

Previously published in The Tampa Bay Times