The holidays can be one of the most joyful times of the year, but they also bring a lot of stress. Whether you’re dealing with tight deadlines with work or school, family drama, or just general stress surrounding the holiday season and everything there you just have to get done — or feel like you should be doing — the holidays can be draining. And for those who don’t necessarily have the best relationships with their family or feel the weight of family time during the holidays, this time of year can feel especially lonely.
If you’re feeling less than cheery this time of year, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. I checked in with Lane Moore, author of How to Be Alone: If You Want to, and Even If You Don’t, who has some amazing insight into feeling lonely, especially around family members during the holiday season.
1. Set realistic expectations & stay away from the comparison game
In the world of social media, it is easier than ever to feel like your way of celebrating, or the stage you’re at in life, isn’t good enough. Social media, though, isn’t always the true representation of someone’s life—just one quick snapshot made to look perfect. Instead of focusing on what others are doing, try to build gratitude surrounding what you have. You could write down three things every day that you’re grateful for or that made you happy during the day, and you’ll notice a huge difference in your mindset by practicing gratitude.
Another major way to get through the holidays is to give back. Volunteering, donating, or buying a gift for someone in need are all things that not only help other people, but make you feel good and remind you of the deeper meaning of the holidays beyond stress and family issues.
2. Give yourself time to relax
One of the biggest pitfalls of the busy holiday season happens when you try to do too much. You set yourself up for disappointment when you already have a miles-long to-do-list and you pile on more and more. Strip your list down to the necessities, and then add in things that you really want to do, like baking cookies or going to see a movie.
Moore says that, “You’re allowed to celebrate or not celebrate the holidays however you want. If you don’t want to go home, don’t go. If you want to shut off your phone all day, great. Just find whatever feels right for you this year,” and it’s important to know what you want versus striving to please everyone.
3. Do things that fill your cup
It may sound cliché, but you can’t give to others when you aren’t giving to yourself. Be in tune with what makes you feel happiest, and do those things as often as you can. At least once a day, you should be doing something that restores your energy and makes you feel joy. To get through a holiday season that just doesn’t feel happy, it’s important to take time for yourself and create your own positive, restful moments. “Curl up with a book that feels comforting to you, and makes you feel understood and held,” Moore suggests. “I wrote How To Be Alone: If You Want To And Even If You Don’t, to feel like a friend who could be there to talk you through the holidays, and keep you company through whatever you were going through since so many books have done that for me when people around me could not.”
On another note, try taking some of the pressure off of the holiday season by focusing on normal, everyday things. Take a bath, light your favorite (non-seasonal) candle, or “watch TV/movies that aren’t about families or holidays. This is why horror movies rule.” Moore definitely has a point — taking the edge off, especially when something in your life surrounding the holidays is making things feel worse, can be restorative and helpful for sure.
4. Know that you can make your own traditions
Everyone celebrates differently and finds joy through different means. Know your love languages and surround yourself with people who understand you and bring light into your lfie, rather than making you feel pressured to feel or act a certain way during the holiday season.
“If you hate this time of year, you’re not alone. So many of us are struggling with not having picture-perfect families, or friends, or partners, it’s just too much pressure, and it’s really helpful to know that you’re not the only one feeling it,” Moore says. And like Moore, it’s important to focus on what you want, need, and feel this holiday season.
Personally, I’m struggling with family issues this holiday season, and I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself to still feel as festive and joyful as I usually do. This year, my family’s going to do things our own way to just rest and feel good. We’re going to cook the foods we love, bake some yummy treats, and stay home — no pressure at all, but just the things and people we love the most. Everyone’s traditions are different, so create your own and be proud of them!
I hope these tips can help you get through a not-so-merry holiday season with grace, joy, and stress-free vibes. Although the holidays aren’t perfect, it’s possible to still get the most out of the season by taking care of yourself and doing the things you love with the people you love (or yourself!)
If you need someone to talk to or are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).