by Amy Morin
The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s aren’t always the most wonderful time of year. A recent Virginia Pulse survey reports that 70% of respondents said they’re more stressed during the holidays.
For some, the hustle and bustle from one festivity to the next makes for a stress-filled season. For others, an eerie silence and lack of activity serves as a tangible reminder of the absence of loved ones throughout the holidays. And for many entrepreneurs and people working in the retail industry, the holidays trigger a major increase in workload that means less time to spend with family.
If you find yourself experiencing the holiday blues this year, make the best of the season with these five strategies:
- Establish realistic expectations.Real life usually bears little resemblance to magazine photos or Hallmark movies. Avoid comparing your holiday season to the seemingly magical celebrations you see other families enjoying on TV or over social media. Doing so can lead to the notion that somehow your celebration, decorations, or festivities don’t measure up.
Trying to squeeze too much shopping, celebrating, and family tradition into a few short weeks can result in much unnecessary stress. Create realistic expectations about how much you plan to get done. Establish priorities and avoid overscheduling your time.
- Acknowledge your feelings.The assumption that everyone is ‘supposed to’ be happy during the holidays leads some people to deny experiencing any negative emotions. Despite feeling anxious and overwhelmed, they masquerade behind a fake smile as they try to keep up false pretenses of holiday cheer. But pretending you aren’t stressed or ignoring your loneliness won’t help the situation.
If you’re struggling with uncomfortable emotions, don’t resign yourself to a miserable holiday season. Acknowledge your feelings and make a choice about how to respond to them. You have the power to change how you feel by changing the way you think and behave.
- Change the way you think about the holidays.The way you think about the holidays directly influences the way you feel. Thinking about your activities in terms of all the things you “have to” do – whether it involves spending time with family you don’t particularly enjoy or buying gifts with money you don’t have – the worse you’ll feel. Remind yourself that as an adult, you don’t actually “have to” do anything for the holidays. It’s all a choice and if you don’t get around to baking your usual holiday cookies, or the gifts aren’t all perfectly packaged with ribbons, it’ll be okay.
Rather than focus on how things ‘should be,’ enjoy the present for what it is. Take time to look around, enjoy the scenery, and savor the moment. The holiday season only comes once a year and it’ll be gone in the twinkle of an eye. So whether you’re able to squeeze in a few minutes to listen to your favorite holiday song, or you just take a little time to stare at the logs in the fire, be mindful of what’s going on right now without worrying about all the things that you ‘should have done’ or ‘need to do.’
- Create a plan to improve the season.A lack of a festive attitude, doesn’t mean you have to surrender yourself to a terrible holiday season. Proactively make the best of your situation by carefully monitoring your choices. If you’re overwhelmed by too much activity, practice saying no. Setting limits can prevent you from overscheduling yourself only to feel resentful of others who are taking up your time.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, actively choose to do something nice for other people. Rather than stay home alone, serve meals at a soup kitchen or donate toys to children in need. Doing so can keep your problems in perspective as you exchange self-pity for gratitude.
- Take care of yourself.A lack of exercise, overeating, increased alcohol consumption, and reduced sleep during the holidays can be a recipe for an emotional roller coaster. It’s impossible to be mentally strong if you’re not caring for yourself physically.
Invest time and energy into taking steps to manage your physical health, despite the chaos during the holiday season. Simple strategies – like going for a walk or going to sleep a little earlier than usual – can be key to managing your emotions during the holidays.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, psychology instructor, and speaker. Her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is on sale now. She’s frequently quoted in national media outlets. She also writes for Forbes and About.com. For more visit AmyMorinLCSW.com