As we power through marathon holiday celebrations, spiked eggnog and snowflake cookies in hand, it’s common to feel a little let down, anxious, or stressed out. Maybe it’s hard to imagine anything but excitement among the Christmas lights and menorahs, but for many people sadness around the holidays is as predictable as hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” ten times a day for the entire month of December (correlation, not causation, but still…).
Whether you’re overwhelmed by the prospect of traveling, hosting, and constant social interaction, missing a family member that isn’t around anymore, or just struggling through a difficult time and a little cheer-weary, you’re not alone in feeling frayed around the holidays. In an American Psychological Association study, 26% of people reported feeling lonely (often or sometimes) during the holidays, 61% felt stressed, and 68% experienced fatigue. If the emotionally charged season leaves you drained, read on. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin‘s The Happiness Project, these tactics should help you get through December without losing your spirit:
- Take care of your body. Lack of sleep is a key contributor to anxiety, and between travel, parties, and hosting responsibilities, rest can be hard to come by during the holidays. Don’t be afraid to leave a party early or sneak away for an afternoon nap (go ahead, blame jet lag!), and be mindful about your food and alcohol choices. Late eating, rich foods, and large amounts of alcohol can make for a bad night’s sleep.
- Acknowledge your feelings. It can be hard to face down dark thoughts, but that’s where the healing starts. “Sometimes, people think that a happy life is one that doesn’t have any negative emotions,” Rubin told US News and World Report. “That’s not true. Negative emotions have a really important role to play in a happy life, because they show us what might need to change.” Don’t gloss over your struggles for the sake of “holiday spirit.”
- Adjust your expectations. Frankly, calling something “the most wonderful time of year” seems like a setup for disappointment. Hardship doesn’t take a vacation for December out of respect for the season, and reminding yourself that a holiday is really just another day can help build up resilience against feeling let down when things don’t go exactly as planned.
- Take action against loneliness. If you’ll be spending the holiday alone, try to make plans. Ignore the potential for awkwardness and accept the invitation to your co-worker’s dinner, make plans to visit old friends that live out of town, or volunteer at a local hospital or shelter. If all else fails, at least get out of the house–a movie, a walk around the neighborhood, or a meal at your local Chinese restaurant are great ways to celebrate solo and share a little spirit (even with strangers.)
- Let it go. You may feel pressured to get a lot of things “right” this holiday season–the dish you’re bringing to dinner, the gift for your partner, the outfit you wear to that cocktail party. Step back for a little perspective: if it weren’t this time of year, where everything is supposed to be magical, would you be so concerned about your pecan pie? Don’t let the tinsel fool you. Everything shimmers during the holidays, but the consequence of a boring dress or a botched dish are the same as always: pretty darn minimal.
- Embrace change. Kids grow up, friends move away, parents get sick–all of these parts of life can be hard to accept, but especially around the holidays. Remember that traditions can change. If the head of the table is empty for the first time this year, introduce a toast to the missing family member. If your teens aren’t thrilled about leaving cookies out for Santa anymore, have them pick out a bottle of wine for that tireless benefactor.