The holidays can be a festive time of year filled with laughter, joy, and happiness.  Decorating begins, festive music is played, and your favorite holiday classics are on TV.  Family and friends plan get-togethers, exchange wish-lists and set dinner menus.  The “Black Friday” sales are in full swing and gifts are bought.  The excitement grows and the countdown begins.  Are you ready?

While many look forward to the holidays and all the holiday cheer that comes with it, the holidays can be a stressful and trying time for many.  Travel delays – financial limitations – being separated from family/friends – and even having to celebrate the holiday without a significant other for the first time can contribute to holiday blues.  While there are many different triggers that can impact our holiday experiences, rest assured, you have the ability to minimize their impacts. 

Read on for some strategies to get you through the holidays…

1. Self-Care First

I know, this goes against the festive philosophy of giving, volunteering and being altruistic.  I mean it’s the holidays for good grief, right?  We are supposed to give back, think of others and pay it forward.  But here’s the thing, if you are aren’t rested, feeling healthy, as well as energized; how much of yourself can you really give?  How present can you really be in the moment?  Taking time to care for your needs is an important coping strategy to barrier against normal everyday stress which for some seems to be exacerbated during the holidays.  So, set aside time to engage in activities that bring your joy and replenish your soul.  Simple things such as:

  • engaging in some solitude
  • reading a good book
  • watching a good movie
  • getting a good night’s sleep
  • spending time with friends
  • getting massages
  • and exercising are just a few options.

The number of activities and self-care strategies are limitless, you choose what works for you. 

2. Assess your expectations

Are they realistic?  Are they achievable?  Are they meaningful? And most importantly, are they yours?  See expectations can be simple, straightforward, and desired but they aren’t guaranteed.  I can expect that I won’t run into any travel delays, long lines or delayed deliveries on my last-minute orders, but the reality is, I most likely will.  And because “I expected not to,” I’ll have less patience to deal with the situations and as a result, end up with more frustration and stress. 

Another consideration when assessing your expectations, is whether they are yours by choice or through default?  See through habituation and life-scripts you could possibly be holding on to expectations that aren’t yours by choice.  Basically, trying to achieve, uphold or live by some notion instilled by someone else that you don’t really value.  So, give yourself permission to revise, change or choose different expectations to live by.    

3. Avoid comparing yourself to others

It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion that everyone else’s lives are better simply because they may have more money, a bigger home, take more trips, buy more expensive gifts, or even get more likes on Facebook or Instagram.  But comparison can be a nasty habit that leads to distorted perceptions and false beliefs about what really leads to happiness, self-worth, and quality of life.   If you were asked by a trusted and loved friend or family member whether having those items or opportunities changed their value or worth in your eyes, how would you answer?  Now, apply that same supportive, caring and understanding response to yourself.

4. Avoid isolating and going it alone

Regardless of how you feel about or during the holidays, it’s important to make an effort to interact, engage and participate in the festivities.  Whether your job, the recent ending of a relationship, loss of a loved one, or life in general just has your feeling blue, isolating only makes it worse. 

Isolation leaves us vulnerable to our own distorted thinking since we have no one to act as a trusted sounding board to challenge our current mindset.  The proverb, “the idle mind is the devil’s playground,” rings all too true at these times.  So sure, engage in solitude if you need some, take some time to reflect and reset but avoid isolating.  Spending time with family and friends provides needed support, distraction and a valuable reminder that you aren’t in this alone.  And you may even find that you are able to take a more objective view of how to problem solve your concerns at a later time. 

5. Be proactive 

It’s easy to be reactive. You just respond in the moment with your current emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.  It doesn’t take much planning, initiative or energy.  The problem is that reactive responses tend to be more emotional, irrational and impulsive especially when we are stressed, frustrated, hungry, annoyed, etc. 

So, during the holidays when additional stressors are present, our schedules are maxed, and the hustle and bustle of the season is in full swing, being proactive and planning ahead can minimize the potential for little things to turn into big things. 

Take measures ahead of time to minimize stressors by giving yourself additional travel time to get places, pick up items while you’re out vs. saying you’ll get them later, or buy vs. make food items to save time.  Basically, look for ways to simplify your to-do list and get ahead of the tasks as procrastination will only add more unnecessary stress.  And on a larger scale, ask for help when you need it vs. feeling like you have to do all the preparation, planning and execution of activities, parties, pickups and deliveries on your own.    

6. Remember you have choices and control 

Regardless of the situation or circumstances, you can choose how you respond, the power you give away, the time and energy you exude and the overall impact you have on your current situation.  Sure, sometimes we have limited ability to impact the external forces at play, but we have a choice to accept this and move on.  Fighting against things that are out of your control will only lead to increased intensity of emotions, negative experiences, and potentially worsened situations.  Wasting your valuable time, energy, and quality of life just doesn’t seem worthwhile.  So, while guests might arrive late, dinner items burn, plans fall apart, the family discord begins or other potential triggers occur, remember that you are in control of your reactions and you have the choice to focus your time and energy on things that matter the most to you.

The difference between enjoying the holidays and trying to just get through them is ultimately a choice you get to make.  The proverbial glass is easy half full or half empty depending on the perspective you choose to take.  So, choose wisely and allow yourself to have a positive holiday experience. 

And finally, while a simple google search will provide you with a plethora of other strategies or philosophies that you may find useful; sometimes they just don’t seem to be enough.  If you find yourself feeling, thinking or acting differently than normal, if the duration and frequency of these negative or stressful experiences are getting the best of you and additional resources and supports are needed, remember that seeking professional help is always an option.  

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Dr. Snyder earned his Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Counselor Education and Supervision, with an emphasis in Crisis Prevention and Management from Duquesne University. He has been a Licensed Professional Counselor since 2003, gaining experience from diverse positions held within the mental and behavioral health field and is currently MeMD’s Clinical Director.

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