Whatever holidays you celebrate this season, I hope they are happy. For many people, this is the best time of the year. Parties, gifts, decorating, baking, festivities and seeing friends and family bring considerable joy and delight. However, for those struggling with mental illness, loss or family dysfunction, December can be stressful and depressing. If you’re grieving and this is your first holiday without your loved one, things that have brought joy in the past may trigger sadness and tears. If you’ve had a big life change such as a divorce or all the children have left home and they won’t be with you for the holidays, the empty nest can hit very hard especially when it seems like everyone else is focusing on their kids or grandkids.
If you just haven’t been feeling in the holiday spirit this year, be easy on yourself. In my psychotherapy practice lately, I’ve been seeing significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than in previous years. So unfortunately, you may in much better company than you probably expect. You don’t have to go all out celebrating; in fact, you don’t really have to do anything about the holidays at all. The week between Christmas and New Years can be a time of self-care and peace if that’s what works for you. Keep it simple, positive and calm. You don’t have to attend a single party, buy elaborate gifts, bake or send Christmas cards. Think about what is meaningful to you and do as much of that as possible. For many of us here in the Vail valley, the start of ski season is a highly anticipated time of adventure and fun. Don’t let holiday obligations keep you off the hill or out of the snow.
Be careful about spending, overeating and too much alcohol. Hopefully you didn’t go beyond your budget when buying gifts. Research shows that in the long run, we remember and value positive activities and quality time with loved ones more than material objects. Stick to your fitness schedule and a healthy diet. Be sure to get enough sleep. People really underestimate how important quality sleep is in managing stress and keeping your mood bright.
Social media can be a source of pleasure and amusement or it can be a real downer. Remember most people only post the good stuff that’s happening in their lives. Don’t overgeneralize and conclude that everyone but you has a great life and is having perfect holidays. It’s fun to share your best, most joyful or entertaining moments on your social media feed so don’t hesitate to do so. Using social media to feel closer and more connected to the people you care about can be a cherished source of happiness, validation and emotional support.
If you are introverted and find socializing exhausting, be attentive to your self-care needs. Consider attending only those events that are most meaningful or comfortable for you. It’s fine to leave a holiday celebration after only an hour instead of staying for an entire evening. If you have guests staying with you or you are staying in someone else’s home, make sure you carve out some quiet time for yourself without apology. Excuse yourself to lie down or take a walk. Offer to help in the kitchen so you have something to do if you find small talk difficult. It’s perfectly fine to decline events that are too loud or overwhelming for you. Instead, schedule small get-togethers that help you feel comfortable and relaxed instead of stressed and pressured.
Many people feel alone and isolated this time of year. For members of our community who’ve moved here from other places, this can be an especially lonely time. If you have to work long hours during the holiday season, you may feel stressed, grouchy and disgruntled. If you work or live near someone who has no local family, the greatest gift you can give them may be to invite them to share in your own festivities. If they decline to attend, drop off some treats from your holiday table. Be flexible about when guests can arrive or leave to accommodate the schedules of those who have to work on Christmas or New Years.
Practicing tolerance, acceptance, kindness and generosity of spirit are some of the greatest gifts we have to give, and they don’t cost a thing. Remember the reason for the season. Hint, it’s not about glamour, extravagance and exhaustion. Do what makes you feel relaxed, connected, and joyful and brings meaning to your life. That will be your best recipe for happy holidays.