Most Holidays Aren’t a Hallmark Movie: Tips for the Season

It’s the most wonderful time of year.  Or is it an emotional and stressful time of year?  Likely, it’s somewhere between the two.  

If you are someone who struggles finding constant joy this season you are not alone.  The holidays can be hard for a variety of reasons.  It can feel like there’s pressure from society to have this picture perfect family holiday full of traditions and nothing but laughter and good times.  You may feel like that is true for others but the reality of your life is different.  There may be the thoughts like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be ‘normal?’”  Maybe your holidays are overall “ok” but… Maybe there are feelings of loneliness. Maybe you feel like something is missing. Maybe they’re stressful for other reasons.

There is no “normal” or “perfect.” We all need this reminder.  Also, I can guarantee that there are other people having similar thoughts. In my years as a therapist (and all my years of being alive frankly), I have seen many people struggle this time of year.  Heck, I’ve struggled at times.  There can be an increase in mental health symptoms including anxiety and depression. There can be an increase in substance use or relapse for those in recovery.  There can be an increase in interpersonal conflicts.  So what can you do to get through the season?  

Helpful Tips for the Holidays

  1. Self Care - This is important year round and is especially important during the holidays.  Schedules can get hectic with travel or holiday related events.  Don’t neglect yourself.  If you have found a routine of exercise, meditation, or other forms of self care try to keep this a priority.  If you miss something one day, forgive yourself and get back on track.  

  2. Keep Your Boundaries - These could be boundaries with how you spend time or boundaries with individuals in your life.  Keep the balance that works for you. Sometimes holidays mean being around people you don’t usually see.  It could be family or other individuals that caused pain in the past. Identify people that can offer support if needed at events and people that will be there to reach out to after.  

  3. Sleep - Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season and sleep goes out the window.  Sleep is key to our physical and mental wellbeing.  If you get off schedule, give yourself time to get back on track.  

  4. Make Room for Your Feelings - Don’t try to eat or drink them away.  These and other forms of numbing only “work” for a short time and they’ll still be there. Acknowledge your feelings.  Be curious about them.  You don’t have to put on a facade of constant joy because of the season.  When we make room for our true feelings, we learn to ride the wave because they will change.  Journal about them.  Talk to someone about them.  Most importantly, feel them. 

  5. Live in the Moment - Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the planning of events and gifts that before we know it we have missed enjoying being in the moment.  Slow down.  Breathe. Enjoy what’s happening in the now.  

  6. Practice Gratitude - Notice what it is you do enjoy and appreciate.  Maybe it’s something about the season (ie weather, movies, music, events, peppermint mochas, or gingerbread).  Maybe it’s something you value year round that you want to give extra acknowledgement to and thanks for.  This actually helps build positive emotional pathways in the brain. 

  7. Take the Pressure Off Yourself - You don’t have to work so hard trying to create the perfect holiday for others. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do (within reason of course).  If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, you don’t have to.  If you can’t afford to give that expensive gift, don’t.  Listen to your gut.  You do you. 

  8. Make the Holidays Your Own - Someone else’s idea of a “magical” holiday season doesn’t need to be what yours is.  If there are holiday events you want to attend, go for it.  If you want to cook yourself an awesome meal, you can do that. If you want to go sit on the beach with your dog, that’s cool too.  You can start your own traditions.  You get to choose.  

  9. Connect - Sometimes we want to hide in our safety cocoons.  That can be ok to some extent.  Sometimes when we want to isolate, what would really be best for us is to connect.  Find people to talk to.  This may be friends or family.  It may be professional support like a therapist.  Talk to someone about what the holidays are like for you and how you are doing this season.  You don’t have to go through it alone.  

When we stop trying to make the holidays fit an ideal, we give ourselves permission to find enjoyment in what they really are.  Again, your holiday can be whatever you want it to be.  Take a few minutes and think about what you really would enjoy doing this time of year.  Picture your ideal holiday.  Make plans to do as many of those things as possible.

Remember, the stress of the holidays will pass.  It is normal for emotions to fluctuate especially during the holiday season.  There may be moments of stress, moments of joy, moments of tears, moments of laughter, and so much more. 

Wherever you are in your life this season, take care of yourself.  It’s both ok and normal if your holidays aren’t like a Hallmark Movie.  Maybe they’re more like a prime time drama or a reality show on Bravo. Whatever the holiday season brings, know we’ll all muddle through somehow.  2019 is just around the corner.  

If you need extra support do not hesitate to reach out. You can email me to schedule a therapy session. For 24/7 Support contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.