The Big Holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa; and New Year’s Eve—come with a bag packed full of emotions and feelings. Seasonal expectations can make us feel confused, frustrated, vulnerable, and exhausted. Our feelings during this super-charged time may bounce around like pinballs. How we take care of ourselves can make a big difference in getting through this five-week mega-holiday with as little stress as possible.
The holidays can fill us with dread or joy. Relationship dynamics, individual personalities, or past experiences can impact and intensify our mental health symptoms. Leaving a volatile situation may not be possible. Or, we may be faced with isolation and loneliness. Loss of loved ones and friends who have passed away can increase our symptoms. Our families may be fragmented and scattered. Friends may have moved away or otherwise become inaccessible. Communication may be difficult in strained relationships. The excitement and pressure of preparing for the holidays may overwhelm us.
This time of year brings me bittersweet memories of loss and thankfulness. In recent years, the holidays have been emotional as I simultaneously grieve my sister (2015), my mother (2016), and my partner (2016), even as I feel joy for the time I had with them. The fear and anxiety of receiving a cancer diagnosis (2017) has given way to deep gratitude.
Getting through this emotionally-charged time with minimum distress can feel overpowering as we try to make our way through the flurry of activity and maintain our emotional stability. Here are 37 tips to help during this time.
1. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Self-compassion for your feelings, rhythms, and circumstances help put the situation in perspective.
2. Pamper yourself. Get a massage, manicure, or pedicure. Take a bubble bath and include candles and your favorite music. Stay in your pajamas all day.
3. Dress up in your favorite outfit and prepare your favorite meal. If possible, invite others to join you.
4. “No,” is a complete sentence and a right. Allow yourself, as much as possible, to establish and adhere to realistic expectations. Set firm boundaries. Try not to get caught up in the expectations of others.
5. Take time for quiet celebration, with or without others. Light candles. Play soothing or uplifting music. Do a favorite ritual or try a new one. Start new holiday traditions, rituals, and practices that nurture your spirit.
6. Read my post of October 2019, The Opportunity of Loneliness, for ways to deal with loneliness and isolation.
7. Plan a budget for how you will spend your time and money. Balance time with others with solitude. Stick to it as much as possible.
8. Buy yourself a holiday present or a gift card you can use later.
9. Call someone and have a casual conversation.
10. Read an uplifting, inspiring, or comforting book or that stack of magazines you have saved.
11. Write your thoughts and feelings in a notebook, journal, or diary.
12. Read a sacred text or other inspirational material and reflect on what the passages mean to you.
13. Practice compassion and forgiveness, if only for a short while, as you interact with others.
14. Spend time in religious or spiritual activities that soothe and uplift you. Pray or meditate.
15. Review the closing year. Look for the lessons. Marvel at the wisdom you gained.
16. Make gentle and empowering plans for the new year without locking into resolutions. Try to approach the new year with joyful anticipation and expectancy.
17. Call a trusted friend or family member and let the person know how you are feeling.
18. See a counselor, minister, rabbi, priest, or spiritual director. The Center has counselors who work with grief. To schedule an appointment, click here.
19. Volunteer at an organization you are fond of or one you want to know more about.
20. Engage in activities that inspire awe and wonder in you. Gaze at a clear night sky. Watch a toddler at play.
21. Go for a walk or exercise. Practice yoga or stretching exercises; or, try Tai Chi or Qi Gong.
22. Find reasons to smile and laugh. Watch funny or nurturing movies.
23. Let off steam safely. Try Tae Kwon Do, kickboxing, or screaming.
24. Create something. Paint, color, draw. Or, sculpt, weave, or knit. Write an essay, blog post, or short story. Try a new recipe.
25. Bundle up and head outdoors to blow bubbles. Watch them freeze in mid-air.
26. Decorate your living or work space with décor of the season. The dollar stores have some good options.
27. Spend time with caring, supportive family members or friends, especially sharing a meal, if possible.
28. Honor the rhythms of your body. Eat, sleep, rest, and exercise as your body requires.
29. Write a letter of gratitude, grief, anger, thank you, thinking of you, forgiveness, or apology regardless of whether you intend to send it.
30. Address a holiday card to yourself, write a note inside that inspires and uplifts you, and mail it.
31. Send holiday cards to friends and family members. One of the dollar stores carries an impressive line for $.50 each.
32. Make hot cocoa or cider or buy egg nog.
33. Limit alcohol consumption.
34. Do a craft such as make ornaments, a homemade gift, or a wreath for your door.
35. Perform a random act of kindness.
36. Dress up and have your photo taken by a professional.
37. Participate in seasonal activities at work, school, house of worship, the people in your apartment building or neighborhood, holiday festivals, etc.
I hope these suggestions spark new ideas for you. Allow yourself to experiment until you find what feels right. Try a different idea every day or pick one and use it for a week or the whole season. You may want to do several on the same day. The most important point is to be a friend to yourself.
Thank you to Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for their generous support and encouragement for my writing these monthly articles. I appreciate all of you who read my column each month and hope I have enriched your life in some way. It is an honor and a privilege to serve the community of the Center. The Holidays offer the promise of beauty, wonder, and grace. Enjoy this festive, exciting season. May you find peace, comforting, and joy in the coming weeks and all of 2020.