When It’s Not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The first installment in our Holiday Blog Series

Blog Post Headers 2 (4).png

Happy Holidays! I haven’t even finished my Halloween candy, but stores are already playing Christmas music and my Starbucks cup is telling me I should be radiating joy. We are often told that this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Nevertheless, this season is sometimes one of the toughest times for many. Holidays have a way of creating social pressure, and bringing up tough memories. Pressures on finances, strained relationships, dwindling hours of sunlight (my personal least favorite), over-eating and drinking, and family disagreements over politics don’t always turn out to be merry and bright. Sometimes, they are bleak and sad.

If you’re not feeling jolly, you aren’t alone. This blog series is designed to help us cope with some common holiday stressors. For now, here are a few quick tips for how to deal when the holidays when you are not feeling cheerful.  

Take what you like, and leave the rest

Not liking certain things about the holiday season may make you feel like a Grinch, but you don’t have to write it off altogether just because you don’t love every day from Thanksgiving on through to the New Year. I love Thanksgiving, but find holiday shopping overwhelming and exhausting. On the other hand, I have one friend who can’t wait to finish the family meal so they can go shopping at midnight on Black Friday. Growing up Jewish I often felt left out on Christmas. While the 25th was not my favorite day, I loved walking around drinking cider and looking at the lights throughout December. You can have fun moments even if you don’t love the whole season.

Remember there’s no “right” way to celebrate

I got engaged this year, which lead to my fiancé and I talking about holiday traditions. I noticed my brain was telling me married people “should” spend all their holidays together. If we both want to spend Thanksgiving with our families of origin, and that means being separate, so what? If you want to spend the holiday with only your partner, that is also OK! If going out on New Years isn’t your scene, stay in! Even if it looks like everyone on your news feed is taking pictures under a ten-foot Christmas tree or is out partying all night on New Year’s Eve, you’re not alone in wanting to do something different. If you find yourself thinking in a lot of “I should” statements, try to push those aside and prioritize doing what will truly bring you the most joy.

Find room for Compromise:

It’s easy to say just don’t go to events when you don’t want to, but lots of us have occasions we are obligated to attend. However, this does not have to equal spending a week at home with family you do not get along with every holiday. Maybe you agree to go to your Mom’s house for Thanksgiving, but ask your family to travel to you for a Hanukkah dinner. If you’re making a trip back home but don’t feel comfortable staying there for a full week, it’s OK to only go for a night or two and stay in a local hotel or with a friend for part of the time. You might hear some grumbles from your grandma, but there is no requirement you have to stay for the four days after Thanksgiving or the whole week between Christmas and New Years.

Practice generosity:
The research on this is pretty clear; we get more from giving than from receiving. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on gifts. It might mean Venmo-ing a friend who you might not be able to visit $5 for their morning coffee, or offering your seat on the subway to someone who looks like they are having a hard day. These little gestures don’t require going into debt, but can make someone’s day and make you feel good about yourself.

Don’t throw your routine to the wind:

After a long year, we often feel like we deserve to let loose during the holidays. And you do; however, treating yourself and your normal self care routine do not have to be mutually exclusive. If you usually wake up before 8, exercise four days a week, and eat pretty healthily, you’re not going to feel great if you let that all go for a week. Nobody expects you to give up your Thanksgiving meal or Hanukkah Gelt, but if you can get a few workouts in and get enough sleep, you’ll be able to cope with holiday stress better and it will be easier to return to your routine.

Practice self-compassion:

Anticipate that the holiday season will have some tough moments. I often see clients get mad at themselves when self-care doesn’t work or that they’re not over a difficult situation fast enough. However, it is not realistic to expect that taking a bubble bath or going to a yoga class is going to make you forget this is your first Thanksgiving without your grandpa. When you notice yourself having these emotions, take a moment to simply observe them without judgment. It can be helpful to say to yourself, “It’s understandable given (insert your situation) that I’m having a difficult time this year. I am going to try to be compassionate with myself.” Then place your hands on your chest, and take a moment to visualize sending yourself kindness. You might find that if you don’t beat yourself up over your emotions, they lose a little of their potency and pass more quickly.

If you already struggle with anxiety or depression, being told to be cheerful, merry, and bright can really feel like salt in a wound. I hope you’ll give some of these suggestions a try, and hope you find the rest of this series helpful as you navigate this tricky time of year. Happy Holidays!

Julia Lawrence, LMSW is a therapist at A Good Place. Find out more about what it’s like to work with her here.