Everywhere you go this season, there’s holiday music over the PA systems and local stores awash with Christmas decorations. The neighbor’s house glows like an airport runway and your Facebook feed is clogged with babies and pets in ridiculous sweaters.
Although some people embrace the Christmas spirit, the holiday season isn’t jolly for everyone. A variety of things—from financial pressures, family stress, living alone (or even working from home), different religious traditions, or even the lack of vacation time—make this time of year challenging for many of us.
If you can relate to these feelings, never fear. We’ve consulted some experts to find ways you can make peace with the holiday season.
Recognize What’s Real
It all starts with the question: “What are you doing for the holidays?”
Let’s remember that the holidays are heavily commercialized. We’re inundated with messages to spend money. Ads and store displays encourage us to buy gifts, decorate homes, send greeting cards, and eat and drink to excess. Even traveling “over the river and through the woods” to visit far-flung family members can be costly and time-consuming.
Keeping up with the expectations can be a heavy burden for many people. Constance Morrill, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York City, reminds us that while there’s social pressure to deck the halls, how (or if!) you observe your holidays is ultimately up to you. If expectations of the holiday season make you uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is be honest with your friends and family.
Social media can also be an uncomfortable mirror, as the barrage of happy family photos can be difficult if you don’t have a family with which to spend the holidays. It’s worth remembering that not everyone is having a jolly time despite what they post online. Even so, if all of the holiday posts are getting you down, consider disabling Facebook for a few days. A browser extension such as Social Fixer also allows you to hide “trigger words” in others’ posts.
The most important thing is not to put undue pressure on yourself to conform to other people’s standards. If you want to be social, Morrill suggests, decide in advance how far you’re willing to go. You don’t have to accept every invitation or put yourself in financial dire straits by engaging in social interactions you can’t afford.
Table For One
For some people, being alone over the holidays is especially difficult. Maybe your problem isn’t too many invitations, but too few. Living or working alone means you might miss the parties and feel left out of the holiday celebrations going on around you.
If that’s your situation, Morrill suggests you throw your own party. Open your home to anyone in your circle who may also have nowhere else to go for the holiday. Or, even easier than that, just make yourself available. Let your friends know that you’re looking for a holiday opportunity.
If your loved ones are far away, technology can save the day. Consider throwing a virtual holiday party using an app like Whatsapp, Zoom, or Skype.
Regardless of your situation, you might find yourself getting down in the dumps. Here are a few things you can do to fight your inner Scrooge:
- Accept that it’s okay to feel sad, lonely, or even frustrated. As Morrill notes, the more we push our feelings away, the more they intensify. So give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling without guilt.
- Get away from social media and turn off the computer for a while. Grab a book and a cup of hot cocoa and unplug for the day.
- Watch comedies. Stream a favorite show or even binge on silly cat videos. (But avoid holiday classics if they trigger sad thoughts.)
- Go for a walk, bike ride, or nature hike. Even if there’s a foot of snow on the ground, it can help to get out of the house and feel the sun on your face.
Sometimes you just need to get all the negative thoughts and clutter out of your head for a while. As Gina Woodruff, Austin Creative Coach, suggests, if the holidays are stressing you out, consider feeding your inner child.
Woodruff notes that creative projects such as drawing, writing, sewing, knitting, or even coloring in adult coloring books can help you slow down and appreciate the simple, peaceful aspects of the holidays again. You can turn your creative energies to holiday gifts and decorations, such as handmade greeting cards, toys, decorative wreaths, or culinary gifts.
Or go on what Julia Cameron calls a solo “artist date”. Get out of the house for a little while and get back in touch with your inner child by doing something fun just for yourself.
Here are a few ideas for an artist date:
- Go to a museum and write a story based on a piece of artwork.
- Visit a garden or go hiking and just let your thoughts wander.
- Buy a ticket to the movie none of your friends or family wanted to see.
- Go on a day trip to a historical monument, small town, or nature preserve. Sing all your favorite tunes on the way.
- Break out the art supplies. A couple of hours with polymer clay, watercolors, or adult coloring books is a great way to change your perspective.
- Create a vision board or collage for a new personal project or goal.
- Make a gratitude list of all the things you’re thankful for.
- Or go all out and visit a local toy store. Buy yourself the gift you’d give your 10-year-old self.
The important part is to make the space to do these things alone. Savor every moment of the time you’re giving to yourself.
Make New Traditions
Both of our experts suggest reimagining old traditions to bring them back into your life—or making new ones. Here are a few ideas for reclaiming the holidays as your special time:
- Recreate a cherished tradition from your childhood. If you have fond memories of baking cookies or latkes, maybe it’s time you made some yourself. Maybe you had a special ritual around decorating the tree or lighting a menorah—even if it’s just you at home, there’s no reason you can’t still honor that tradition.
- Share your blessings with others by reaching out to an elderly neighbor, and offer to bring them food or invite them in for an evening. Or consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, religious institution, community organization, or animal shelter. Many of these organizations are desperate for extra hands during the holiday season.
- Start a new tradition of reaching out to friends you haven’t heard from in a while. Give them a call or write them a letter.
- Set a goal for the new year. Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn, like scuba diving or pottery? Do you want to start a new business or branch into a new area with your existing one? The holiday break is a good time to stop and ponder your options in the upcoming months.
With these ideas, we hope that you can turn the holiday season into something you can confidently anticipate, rather than approach with dread.
Do you have other ways of taking charge of the holidays? Let us know in the comments.