The holidays are just around the corner. For some people, the holidays are wonderful and full of holiday cheer. But for others, the holidays can be incredibly difficult. While the rest of the world seems to be festive and cheerful, you’re dreading what the season will bring. Maybe you feel sad or alone, overwhelmed or afraid. Or maybe you’re feeling overcome with grief or loneliness. Maybe you feel jealous, as you see the season look merry for others. Or maybe you’re planning to throw the covers over your head and ignore the next month.
If this time of year feels hard for you, if you’re dreading the holidays, then you’re in the right place. Because today, I’m sharing seven practical ways to help you get through this holiday season.
1.Acknowledge it. You know that phrase, “Awareness is the first step“? That’s true with just about everything, including emotions. If you have a hard time at the holidays, start by acknowledging your emotions. When you dread the season, take a second to name how you’re feeling.
If you watched my recent video on emotional check ins, then you know that feeling better starts with first acknowledging how you feel. Don’t just say you feel “bad” during the holidays. “Bad” isn’t an emotion. Do you feel lonely, overwhelmed, or forgotten? Do you feel anxious, triggered, or isolated? Be specific with your emotions. Pinpoint what you’re really feeling.
Acknowledging how you feel this holiday season will help you better understand what you need. It will help you know how to cope. So if you’re dreading the holidays, stop, take a mindful breath, and describe what emotions are present.
2.Change your language. If you’re a regular here at Dr. Allison Answers, then you know how deeply I believe in self-talk. (See why here.) How you talk about things has the profound ability to shape how you feel. So the words you use when describing the holidays? They matter. So, if you say, “I hate the holidays,” “The holidays are terrible,” or “I always feel depressed this time of year,” then I’m going to gently ask you to reframe your language.
This isn’t about saying, “I love the holidays,” or “This is my favorite time of year.” (Y’all know I’m not about that toxic positivity. That doesn’t help anybody.) Instead, I want you to say something like, “The holidays tend to be difficult for me,” or “I struggle more at the holidays.” Consider saying, “This season is more challenging for me,” or “I feel lonelier this time of year.”
This rewording acknowledges what is, but it also leaves room for something different. It allows the possibility for your experience to shift or change, even if just a little bit. In the video, I share the humorous but accurate description of eating broccoli at dinner. Mumbling the entire meal about how much you hate broccoli won’t make it taste any better. So, acknowledge that the holidays tend to be difficult, but leave some room in your words for things to shift.
3.Give up what doesn’t serve you. If there’s something you absolutely hate about the holidays, something that makes you feel awful, allow yourself to opt out. Let it go, give it up, or say no thanks. Of course, you can’t do this with the entire season, but if there’s something in particular that really sucks, find a way to pass, not go, or make changes.
If your family’s five-hour meal that turns into an argument stresses you out, then leave early. If faking it at the holiday party of the friend you don’t really like isn’t good for your mental health, then don’t go. And if overspending on gifts stresses you out, then don’t do it this year.
I realize this might be easier said than done. And it might require you to ruffle some feathers. But if it’s not serving you, then make a change. Do it differently this year. Of course, it’s important to note that this isn’t an excuse to avoid everything this season. It’s about looking at the things that truly cause distress and finding a way to do them differently.
So don’t just power through. Don’t keep doing what you’ve been doing, especially if it’s not working. If something makes you feel awful, skip it this year, and see how it feels.
4.Resist the urge to isolate. When we feel crappy, we tend to isolate. And the more we isolate, the worse we feel. The worse we feel, the more we isolate. And well, you can see where this goes.
So even though your brain will want to hole up and avoid the world this holiday season, challenge yourself to lean in. Be with people you care about. Engage when you want to avoid. In fact, if you dread the season, let people know that you’re dreading the holidays. Let them know you need some extra support. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, and you don’t have to be the life of the party. But resist the urge the isolate. Because, the research is clear. Isolating is a quick ticket to feeling worse.
5.Do something kind for someone else. There’s a lot of research on the benefits of prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is about doing something kind or helpful for someone else. And if you’re ever done this, then you know how powerful and fulfilling it can be. Years ago, I bought coffee for an elderly man and veteran in front of me at Starbucks. And I was blown away at how much the small act filled me up.
So if you’re dreading the holidays, find a way to do something for someone else. Volunteer, buy a meal, or shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Run an errand, donate to a toy drive, or have a meaningful conversation with someone who seems lonely. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, it just needs to be intentional and kind.
6.Schedule something you enjoy, smack dab in the middle of the holidays. Notice the phrase schedule something versus do something. There’s some pretty cool research that suggests that scheduling a vacation leads to just as much happiness as actually going on the vacation. Kind of surprising, right?
Looking forward to something helps guide your thoughts in a more positive direction. It provides a sense of purpose and hopefulness. And it can give you a target to focus on when the holidays feel hard. So schedule something that you enjoy, smack dab in the middle of the season. It doesn’t need to be expensive, fancy, or complicated. Just make it something you enjoy. Put it on the calendar, make a commitment, and give yourself something to look forward to. This is powerful any time of year, but especially when you dread the holidays.
7.Know that everyone else isn’t merry. I know social media makes it look like everyone is joyful. I know Hallmark movies make it look like everyone is gathered with family. And I know it feels like you’re the only one struggling. But I promise, this isn’t true. Everyone’s isn’t joyful. Everyone isn’t with family. And you aren’t the only one struggling.
I can promise you this, because as a psychologist, I listen to people share their experiences every single day. I hear clients talking about their struggles, their depression, and their grief. And I hear clients sharing about how lonely they feel at the holidays and how much they dread the season. But if you saw these people out in the world, you’d never know they were struggling. You’d never know the holidays were hard for them.
So if it feels like everyone else is happy, festive, and full of holiday cheer, please know that this isn’t true. Everyone else isn’t merry. And you are not alone. PS: Don’t believe me? Need more proof? Check out this video; I promise you’ll feel less alone.
If you’re dreading the holidays, if this season feels hard, acknowledge it. Name what you’re feeling. And be thoughtful about what feels so hard this time of year. Then take a breath and remember, you have the ability to impact your experience. You are not powerless over your experience. And you are not stuck feeling this way. You have the ability to do things different this holiday season.
PS: Looking for another way to reduce stress this holiday season? Here’s another one of my favorite tricks?