The holidays are supposed to be one the happiest times of the year, but for many people, they trigger deep feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. For most people this time of year is full of joy, but for those who have past trauma, bear the load of putting on family parties or do not quite have the money to make this holiday special, it can be extremely hard and filled with negative emotions.
There are numerous reasons the holidays aren’t always joyful for people. The list of stress filled situations and tasks are never-ending. Not only do people feel pressure from others to feel “jolly,” but they also feel the pressure from themselves. Sometimes people don’t even know why they feel sad, as past traumatic events and sad holidays can play out subconsciously for decades. Remembering loved ones and being far away from family plays a big role in emotions during the holidays as well. It can be extremely difficult to join in holiday festivities when you’re dealing with financial issues, global concerns, grief, strained relationships, infertility, or difficult family dynamics. Seasonal affective disorder kicks into gear around this time, which can compound everything. Luckily there are quite a bit of things you can do to combat the blues and keep your sanity.
1. Be Grateful
Gratitude is strongly and consistently correlated with increased levels of happiness. The benefits of practicing gratitude are endless. Being grateful will help you have more positive feelings, enjoy experiences more often, improve your overall health, and build stronger relationships. Practicing gratitude tends to give you a sense of what truly matters in life. Starting your day by thinking about three things that you’re grateful for before you even get out of bed, will give you a much better sense of what really matters than if you start the day by reaching for your phone. If need be, keep a gratitude journal. Keeping all of the things you’re grateful for in mind during the holiday season will remind you of the big picture.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Setting realistic expectations is key to happiness in any circumstance. We subconsciously set expectations all the time, the difference is that we do not always set realistic expectations for ourselves and others. The holidays pose a certain societal expectation as well. A lot of our pain and disappointment comes from unmet or unrealistic expectations. Because many of our expectations are subconscious, we typically aren’t even aware of our own expectations. We don’t realize that TV, magazines and the internet are selling us an idealized version of the holidays and family gatherings that not everyone can attain.
Setting realistic expectations is not the same lowering your expectations or standards. Use past experiences to help guide you in setting more realistic expectations for the upcoming year. Understand that you can only control your own thoughts, perceptions and actions, you cannot expect others to do what you want or change entirely. Plan for situations before they happen so that you can be better equipped to deal with them as they come. Focus on what you can do to make your holiday special. In a sense you need to prepare for the worst, but always hope for the best. You never know, by not expecting the picture-perfect gathering, it might turn out better than you thought.
Volunteering can help you put things clearly into perspective quickly. By volunteering you are reminded that things can always be worse. Helping others also helps you be more grateful overall. See how these things cycles back into one another? When you take the focus off of yourself and reflect on your place in the grand scheme of life, you will feel more connected and have a greater sense of belonging, which are both important when it comes to happiness. Not only can volunteering increase your sense of happiness, but you are also helping someone else, which in turn allows them to show how grateful they are for your help, thus making your feel good even more! Food banks are especially in need of help during the holidays.
It is called, “sympathetic joy,” which is the ability to find joy in the good fortune and happiness of others.
4. Embrace Your Spirituality
Embracing your religion or spirituality can work wonders during the holidays. You may not be religious but taping into your spiritual side can scientifically make you happier. Being spiritual allows one to have more meaning and the feeling of value in one’s own life. A spiritual practice is any practice used to nurture and feed the deeper parts of us that bring a sense of peace and interconnectedness. Spiritual practice is not a “one size fits all” type of thing. Believing in a higher power can also help you feel more at ease in the world. Your higher power can be anything, i.e., God, energy, the universe, the creator, spirit, all or whatever you want to label it.
I encourage you to seek out different ways to explore your spirituality. Keep an open mind and put on your critical thinking cap. Some things you might consider trying to feel more “connected” are things such as spending more time in nature, attending religious or cultural events, looking for “signs” from the universe, practice gratitude (as will be mentioned a million times), visit YouTube for guided meditation, or learning about how other cultures embrace spirituality and religion. Buzzfeed has a great list of Modern Ways to Practice Spirituality. I also wrote a post on what I think the differences are between religion and spirituality.
The holidays are especially stressful for people that care for others and feel as though everyone else’s holiday happiness depends on them. Some see self-care as an indulgence, but self-care is a necessity. Self-care is one of the easiest ways to quickly boost your mood. Even if you can only commit to 10 minutes of self-care a day it is worth it, and you will notice the benefits. Click here for ways to practice self-care and here for some of the best self-care products to treat yourself this holiday season.
6. Watch Your Budget
Financial issues are one of the top sources of stress during the holidays. Not only do you have bills to pay, but now you often feel like you have to buy presents for nearly everyone these days. You can get sucked into Secret Santa for both you and your kids, holiday potlucks, photos, tips for services, cards, parties for your children’s activities, and on and on. If your best friends, sister’s daughter that took a liking to you this year, says that she is getting you a gift, now you have to add her to the list as well. Hopefully, you see what I’m getting at. The holidays can get out of control quickly and can be financially overwhelming to say the least. You might also feel the pressure to get your shopping done early and hope that you have enough money for those super sales.
This goes back to those realistic expectations and sticking with a set budget. It is not worth going into debt for material items. It is wise to set a realistic budget that you can work with after your bills are paid first and accommodate your spending as needed. If your budget is on the lower end or non-existent, don’t fret, set boundaries and get creative. Setting others’ expectations ahead of time will relieve a lot of the pressure.
You could do this by letting people know that you will be limiting the amount you spend this year or are buying family gifts vs. individual gifts. Try offering coupons that can be redeemed throughout the year for goodies, tasks or adventures. One thing that will help keep you within your budget for your own family is following the four-gift rule; something to read, something to wear, something they want and something they need. This can also put gift-giving in perspective for kids who think that presents are what the holidays are all about. If you feel compelled to get gifts for every person you know or anyone who is giving you a gift, be more creative this year and consider that one gift that will melt their heart but won’t burn a hole in your wallet.
7. Show Some Love
Love can be found in many forms and experienced in many different ways through numerous types of relationships. Love not only makes you feel good (most of the time), but it can also relieve stress, allows you to live longer, and helps you to feel connected to those in your life who are important to you.
Expressing loving feelings can be very difficult for some people. Our society even seems to dismiss love as a sign of weakness. You can show love in many ways. The book The Five Love Languages can help you identify how you want to be loved and how others prefer to receive love. Showing you love someone can be accomplished in many ways. For some, giving a gift is a sign of love. To others hearing the words, “I love you,” is the only way they will truly feel loved.
Other ways you can show love can be as simple as being courteous and thoughtful, offering your help or support, writing a love letter, or simply by forgiving them for something they have done. There is no time like the present to show love. Life is too short, and tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
8. Take a Digital Detox
Taking a digital detox might be just what you need during the holidays. If you are tired of being inundated by picture perfect family photos, advertisements for the fanciest car to buy your spouse with a big red ribbon on it or the constant notifications ringing in your ears, it might be time to take a break.
A digital detox means turning off your phones, tablets, and computers for at least 24 hours or for a block of time each day/night. If that seems totally unrealistic, it’s okay to start slower. Try uninstalling your favorite app that keeps you up half the night. Consider relinquishing your phone during dinner with your family for a week. If you are really hesitant, just put your phone on airplane mode once in a while. I read an article once that suggested that you “bury” your favorite apps in a folder in your phone so that you have to actively search for it, oftentimes “out of sight, out of mind” and it has actually discouraged me from being on social media 24/7.
You will be amazed how much you don’t miss your electronics and what you could be accomplishing without them. By taking a digital detox you can ease insomnia, improve your posture, elevate your mood, decrease stress, increase your empathy and self-esteem, and experience quality time with your loved ones in real life. This list of benefits from taking a digital detox is boundless and quite surprising. Being online has drastic effects on your physical health and mental health. Think back to the days before all this technology was available, was it really that bad?
9. Be Active
This might be stating the obvious, but being active is good for mind, body and soul. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean exercise, for all those (including myself) that hate going to the gym.
Some of the best ways to be more active at this time of year involves being outside. Even for one day, be a tourist in your own state. A day trip can break up the day-to-day BS that we all deal with and get you moving. Explore that state park or museum you’ve never got around to seeing. Many cities even have holiday themed events going on that could bring back some of the happy nostalgia of the holidays when you were a kid.
Walk barefoot in nature. Grounding, or Earthing, refers to connecting electrically with the Earth. This has been shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety. This documentary explains how grounding works. You could also consider joining a recreational league, some cities even have recreational dodge ball and kick ball. Being active for just 30 minutes a few times a week, it will boost everything from your immune system to your mood.
10. Just Be Yourself
Stop trying to please and impress everyone else. Stop accommodating situations or people that make you unhappy. Stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and stop overextending yourself. Stop trying to be perfect. It’s time to just be you. You are wonderful the way you are. You can say no. Everyone will function even if things are not perfect. While it’s ok to adapt to your environment and to certain situations, you should not have to be someone you aren’t just to appease others. If you know that visiting your family for the holidays will be a toxic experience, make other plans.
People generally will feel more comfortable around, safer and respect you more when you are being your authentic self. What risk do you truly take by showing who you really are? Will you lose friends? Maybe those people aren’t worth having in your life anyways if they do not like the real you. Ultimately, by weeding out those who do not support you as you truly are, it will allow you to feel freer.
Being authentic requires you to know yourself and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Authenticity can require you to disclose things about yourself that others might not agree with, knowing that it might make them uncomfortable or potentially cause an argument. You might also need to make unpopular decisions and to acknowledge aspects of yourself that you’d rather hide from others.
Being authentic allows us to connect deeply with others because it requires us to be transparent and vulnerable, which is a gift in itself depending on your perspective. In the end just being yourself allows you to live a more open, honest, and engaged life, thus leading to total liberation and happiness. The temporary discomfort is worth a lifetime of well-being.
Wishing you the most authentic and happiest of holidays for YOU!
Things Always Get Better - I have truly lived. I’ve had good times and bad times. I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, a psych nurse and a soon to be wife. I love writing about my passions, what interest me, what interests others, and sharing all of my thoughts with my readers. I want everyone to have the chance to live their happiest life. This blog is truly my own little passion project, gaining more and more traction each day. I hope you enjoy browsing my site and all of the unique content I have to offer. Take a look around; perhaps you’ll discover what fuels you as well. Read on and enjoy!
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