Navigating The Holidays

abstract holiday lights

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”  according to Andy Williams who recorded this holiday classic in 1963. Indeed, for many people it is a season of family, friends, delicious food, and good cheer. Yet, according to a survey conducted in 2015 by Healthline, 62% of Americans reported feeling “very” or “somewhat” stressed during the holidays.

Many Americans find themselves secretly or unknowingly agreeing with the character Adele (played by Anne Bancroft) in the holiday film Home for the Holidays, who says “I’m giving thanks that we don’t have to go through this for another year!”

What are some things to consider when preparing for Winter Break and possibly navigating holidays?

One is the expectation that we should be happy. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, gratitude, and good cheer. We are bombarded by messages to be happy, to be social, to be excited. Colleagues ask us what we are doing for the holidays and share their own exciting plans. Under these circumstances, it can be difficult and marginalizing when we aren’t in the same state of excitement or euphoria, or when we don’t share the same religious or holiday traditions as others and we must put on a happy face to fit in. It can be helpful to acknowledge that it is okay to be not okay, that you are not alone in feeling this way.

The holidays are also supposed to be a time of family and friends, a time when we gather with our loved ones near and far. But not all of us can be with people we care about, and this can feel particularly painful when, like happiness, we are inundated with messages about how we should be with friends and family. It can be helpful to remind yourself that it is normal to feel lonely during the holidays and that you are not alone. Reach out to people, even if you can’t be with them; find new ways to connect with the community, like volunteering. Maybe avoid social media for a while to avoid the relentless cheer, tell yourself that this will pass, let yourself be sad during this time, and try to plan something nice just yourself.

The holidays can be especially hard if you’ve lost someone you love. Maybe someone you care about passed away or perhaps you’ve had a relationship breakup. You may not feel like celebrating anything. Don’t force yourself to do so or to be happy. It’s okay. Connect with those who might also share your grief or a friend who can lend a listening ear or a support group. Let them know how they can support you. Be gentle with yourself. Be realistic.

Remember to take good care of yourself during the holidays. Try to take time to practice healthy habits like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well. Do things that you enjoy. That might include reading a good book, relaxing with a warm bath, engaging in a favorite hobby, or spending time in nature; whatever might be even a little helpful or constructive. Avoid things like alcohol or drugs. While those might take the edge off in the short run, ultimately, they tend to make things worse. The holidays can be tough for a lot of people. You are not alone. Accepting that things aren’t always going to be happy and joyful can help you get through this difficult time.