by Brooke Faulkner
When many people talk about the holidays, they speak with a feeling of warmth and love. They associate this time of year with family and giving. Kids get gifts and winter break; parents get to see their children believe in something magical; and families embrace and feel blessed for their time spent together. Holidays feel nostalgic for many, and this time of year brings back memories of baked cookies, Christmas movies, and cozy mornings with hot cocoa and playing in the snow.
However, plenty of people have a difficult time during the holiday season. Some may feel lonelier during the holidays. Some may have feelings of grief due to the absence of a loved one during this time. Some may not have family, or be estranged from their family. Some may feel ostracized if they are single, without children, or going through a separation. Some may be experiencing financial troubles that are exacerbated during the gift-giving holidays. Some may be struggling to stay sober or battling with their mental health. No matter what your story is, there are tips that can help you survive this difficult time of year.
Get Out of Town
If the holiday season is hard for you, it might be the perfect time for you to get out of town and create new memories away from any triggering people or situations. Travel has a way of helping you feel rejuvenated and can help in increasing your feelings of independence and adventure. Visit some of the most amazing cities in the world — some of which won’t feel like the holiday season in terms of temperature and culture. Even a road trip to a nearby resort or a winter camping weekend can help to remove you from the hard parts of being at home. You have every right to take this time and mold it into whatever you need to help make you feel better.
Create New Traditions
Some of the common traditions that people have can make this time of year worse for people. Even your own traditions can be triggering if you’ve lost someone or been recently separated. Instead of sticking with the traditions that are difficult, create new ones. If you’re feeling especially lonely, spend this time of year visiting shelter dogs or retirement communities to be a source of comfort for others who may be lonely as well. If you recently lost someone, make a new tradition of celebrating them somehow, like making their favorite recipe or watching their favorite holiday movie. Pinpoint the hard parts of the holiday and find ways to make them your own, or replace them altogether.
Plan an Exit Strategy
If you’re worried about something happening during holiday events that will be hard, be sure to plan an exit strategy. Sometimes it’s being around toxic family members, sometimes it’s being around drinks when you’re trying to be sober, and sometimes it’s seeing spouses or families simply enjoying this time of year. Each of those things can lead to heartache, so you are allowed to remove yourself if things get hard. Plan an excuse to get out of an event beforehand in case something happens. It might even be helpful to set the scene and tell people, “I may have to leave early,” or “I may get called into work,” to help make it easier to leave. This will make it less awkward if you need to make a getaway from something that is hard to handle.
Find Something You Enjoy
When this time of year is hard for you, help yourself by finding something about it that you enjoy. Maybe this time of year is hard, but you love the snow, helping others in need, or watching Christmas movies. You might try diving into more snow sports like skiing or snowshoeing to help you with something you enjoy during this time. Not only can it help when things get hard, but exercising in nature can also help with things like occupational burnout or helping to combat seasonal affective disorder.
If you love helping others, you may make this time of year into a tradition of giving by adopting a family or buying gifts for charity. If you can’t think of many things you enjoy, try to find something you haven’t done yet to find the thing about this time of year that you do enjoy.
Be Kind to Yourself
More than anything, it’s important to be kind to yourself during this time of year. Sometimes there’s nothing particularly triggering about the holidays, but things seem to be difficult anyway. This can be due to added stress, being stretched too thin, or spending more time comparing your situation to someone else’s. Be kind to yourself by managing your expectations and making your mental health and self-care a priority. Commit to one holiday party instead of all of them, suggest another family member hosting this year, or stay focused on unplugging from social media altogether. If it’s too hard to take an active part in the holidays, forgive yourself for that. The holidays are hard for many people, and it’s okay if your holiday season doesn’t look like everyone else’s.
Though the holidays are magical for some, others feel the weight of expectations. They are expected to buy a big gift, attend the parties, be around family, and act as though this time of year is a blessing. For some, that’s just not how it feels. It feels heavy and fake. It feels stressful and overwhelming. It feels emotional and difficult. If the holidays are hard for you, rewrite the hard parts. Get out of town, create your own traditions, plan an exit strategy, find something you enjoy, and be kind to yourself. Hold on tight until this time of year has gone by. Until then, utilize some of these tips to help you get through it.