This time of year, we’re used to reading about holiday blues and holiday stress. Contrary to popular belief, however, anxiety, depression, and suicide rates do not rise during the holidays. The CDC, Mayo Clinic, and other research institutions have found no link between holidays and increased depression and suicide. (Read more here.)
Nevertheless, holidays do knock some of us off balance. Between family gatherings, pressure to spend money, kids coming back from college, work disruption, and other holiday-related events, we may forget that holidays are supposed to be about comfort and joy.
Here are eight ways to embrace the true meaning of the season and focus on increasing joy, love, and peace.
1. Look for the good all around you.
Keep your eye open for good work, smart ideas, a helping hand, or a great attitude. Be sure to praise others when they contribute or are thoughtful. Look for the positive qualities in difficult guests or crabby family members, and let them know you’re grateful for them in general, and their part in making the event run well.
2. Get relief with a “now break.”
No matter how cheerful and upbeat your mood, holidays can still deplete us because there’s so much to do and plan for. The best way to avoid getting burned out and exhausted is to take a “now break.” Do an activity that brings you out of your head and into your body, where you can be completely calm and in the present, not worrying about what you need to do. Put on some music and sing or dance for a few minutes. Walk briskly around the block while taking in the scenery. Or close your eyes, breathe deeply, and focus on just the in and out of your breath for several minutes. When a thought enters your head, let it go and refocus on the sound of your breath.
3. Release those pent-up emotions.
When negative behavior patterns and family dynamics start to tip you off balance, move all that emotional energy out of your body. Find a private place to stomp your feet (anger), cry (sadness), and shiver and shake (fear). If you feel poisoned by a nasty relative, deal with your anger constructively and physically by pounding a pillow so you’ll feel more loving. If it’s the first holiday without your mother, allow yourself a big cry before the family arrives so you can be grateful for what you have. If you’re nervous about meeting your beau’s family, shiver and shake for a minute before getting out of the car.
4. Accept what is.
Negativity and anger arise when you aren’t accepting what is. Give up the idea that people and things should be different than they are. Practice repeating: “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be. I can’t control them, but I can control my own attitude.” After you accept the situation, it’s much easier to be constructive and figure out exactly what you need to say and do. Accept that you’ll meet resistance from your teenage son when you want to take a family photo, smile, and then speak up about how important it is for you.
5. Enjoy your holiday to-dos.
Make a detailed task list. From a quiet place, write a list of to-dos and break overwhelming tasks into smaller units that you can easily accomplish. Prioritize, map out when you’ll do what, and just attend to what’s next. When shopping for gifts, plan before you shop. When cooking, put on lively music. Find ways to make holiday chores fun, easy, and doable.
6. Don’t give energy to stressful thoughts.
Practice identifying and contradicting your stressful thoughts. Be aware of what’s worrying you and keeping you awake at night. Whenever that thought comes into your head, repeat frequently, “It’s okay. Everything will be all right. Let go and relax.” Such self-soothing words and ideas divert energy away from the worry and give you an opportunity to think in a more constructive way about how you’ll get the house cleaned and decorated in time.
7. Ask for help, and offer support to others.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. If you’re hosting a holiday get-together, figure out what you can delegate and ask friends or relatives to lend a hand. It’s not your job to do it all — and it’s also more fun to collaborate. Ask others to do some of the gift buying, the cooking, or the cleanup. Any overwhelming situation becomes less so when one asks for help. And reciprocally, reach out and help others in need. The very act increases feelings of love.
8. Be irrepressibly positive around difficult or annoying folks.
When people around you are being negative — gossiping, for example, or being critical — jump in with a positive comment about how good the food is, how exciting the football game is, or how beautiful the house looks. Make a genuine comment about the true meaning of the holiday and how grateful you feel. “Isn’t it great to be here all together? I feel so fortunate to be with my family and friends.” Genuine expressions of joy, gratitude, and happiness instantly neutralize negativity. Keep at it.
Want to find out more about attitudes and reactions that may be curtailing your holiday joy? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.