Beautiful smiling family enjoying on winter holidayThe holidays give us great opportunities to continue existing traditions or establish new ones. We reconnect with friends and family. It is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. However, for some it can become a stressful and overwhelming season, and for others, one of the loneliest times. Whether you have big plans or no plans, consider these four critical points to help you enjoy your holidays:

1. Make sure to take care of yourself first!

That is selfish some may exclaim, but is it really? A great metaphor for self-care is the specific instructions we receive from flight attendants when we travel by plane. They inform us that if the airplane were to lose cabin pressure, we need to put on an oxygen mask to prevent hypoxia (insufficient supply of oxygen that our body needs to function). We are instructed that if we are traveling with a child, we need to put on our mask first before helping our child or others. If we lost consciousness because we chose to be unselfish, who will take care of our child?

Our amazing mind guides us to be ‘fixer-uppers,” serve, and to try to make everyone happy. This is a great thing, but often some of us get overzealous and forget that in order to serve others we first need to take care of ourselves. There is only so much that our body can take when it feels distraught and overwhelmed. Eventually it collapses with a physical illness, and then we really cannot take care of anyone including ourselves! Often guilt takes over and our emotional state worsens. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can maintain emotional, mental, and physical health by becoming mindful of the personal habits that often go sideways during these busy times.

You have a choice, and getting yourself sorted out first can help you enjoy this holiday season.

2. Connect with others.

There is plenty of research that indicates connecting with people maintains our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. We need the human connection and during the holidays this is vital. Whether your family and friends are far or near, spending time with others is crucial especially if you tend to feel lonely during the holidays.

Choosing to serve others can help you focus on others and decrease your loneliness as well. If you decide to serve in your neighborhood or community consider the areas in your life that you are passionate about. Quite often people choose to volunteer in random places without considering their interests and talents. They go through the motions and still feel empty, even though they’ve done some good. On the other hand, consider what it would be like if you chose to serve others by using your interests, talents, or simply what you are passionate about learning.

How can you use your interests or passions to create value in other people’s lives? Your answers can help you connect with others in a meaningful way.

3. Look for the positives.

It’s easy to notice what we don’t have when we compare ourselves to our friends, family, and even strangers. Social media contributes to this unhealthy tendency. Remember that everything is not always what it appears to be. Comparing ourselves with others is not fair for you or to those you are comparing yourself with, though this is easy to do when we are feeling down. We can spend countless hours wishing for something we don’t have. At the end of the day, we end up feeling worse because we still didn’t get what we wanted.

If you are feeling particularly down around the holidays, start a gratitude journal. Think about all the positive experiences you may have had during the day. Pay attention to what you have in your life. Notice the opportunities you have had to serve others and what others may have done for you, even if it appears insignificant. Count everything and write all those blessings every day. If you look, you will find something new. Acknowledge it by writing it down.

4. Maintain a sense of expectancy.

Have you considered the difference between expectations and a sense of expectancy? We often create expectations about the way our holiday season ought to be, and how we are supposed to feel. Social media enhances those expectations. Commercials and TV shows fill our minds with the ‘perfect’ holiday picture. When things turn out differently, we feel disappointed, stressed, or distraught. Have you noticed how the word expectation implies rigidity?

Most likely our emotional well-being will suffer when we create high expectations about the holidays. However, when we have a sense of expectancy, we can be willing to roll with the punches no matter what happens with our holiday events. A feeling of expectancy is what young children often show on Christmas morning. They may have hoped for something else, but then start enjoying the gifts they received. Young children live in the present moment and are moldable. We can learn from them. This holiday season, try to be curious and flexible, and you won’t be disappointed.