These holiday coping tips are for those of us who are all “bah humbug” but want to be more “’tis the season.”
The holidays are hyped up to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” And for some, they are. But the pressure to be merry and jolly alongside the rest of the world becomes extra heavy when you feel anything but that.
For me, each holiday season carries the weight of childhood drama, stress, and sadness. As I share my experiences with others, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this feeling. I’ve heard countless stories from folks who have lost loved ones, experienced trauma, and felt something other than happiness, like grief or winter depression.
No matter which holiday you celebrate or which unpleasant memories resurface around this time, end-of-year dread is more common than you might think.
But I don’t want to be a Grinch anymore. That’s become a bigger priority this year now that I’m dating someone who embodies the sweet holiday-loving spirit of Buddy the Elf.
Although I hope his joy will magically rub off on me, I know it’s not that simple. I can’t just snap my fingers and change how I’ve felt for as long as I can remember.
So, what can people like me do to stop hating the holidays? How can we rewrite our narrative to create happier memories going forward?
Here are eight ways to start leaning into the joy of the holiday season.
“A hate or dislike for holidays usually comes from some connected source or trauma,” says Oddesty K. Langham, MS, LPC, NCC, licensed clinical mental health therapist practicing in Alabama.
She notes that potential sources include:
- poor relationships with family
- individuals at social gatherings who make you feel uncomfortable
- dissatisfaction with where you currently are in life
- feeling anxious about the possibility of someone asking you uneasy questions
- unresolved issues from your past that may come up in certain settings
“While it’s absolutely possible to stop feeling what you feel about the holidays and be happier moving forward, it’ll take you healing from the deeper concerns or issues in order to get to a better place and move forward,” Langham says.
It’s OK to not feel OK. If you’re having a hard time getting through the holidays for whatever reason, you’re never alone. There’s support available for you.
Consider sharing your experience with kind and compassionate loved ones or a mental health professional.
“Therapy can help you to identify reasons why you feel the way you do about the holidays and help you learn ways to cope and heal from those things,” says Langham.
Langham recommends reflecting on your limits, deciding what they are, then sticking to them.
She reminds us that you don’t have to do any of the following things:
- pretend that you feel a certain way
- enter spaces that feel unsafe or uncomfortable
- do things that you don’t want to do
- answer questions about your life
- engage in certain conversation topics
- force yourself to go or stay somewhere you don’t want to
Instead, she suggests thinking about what you want this time of year to look like as well as what might make you happy. Then engage in those things.
Letting go of the notion that you “should” enjoy the holidays can relieve pressure, guilt, or shame that comes along with not feeling that way.
It’s OK to acknowledge what you feel and when you feel it, and give yourself space to just be, says Langham.
“Never apologize for doing what you need to do to take care of yourself and make sure that you’re well,” she adds. “At the end of the day, you deserve to be true to who you are and what you feel, even if that means you sit [something] out.”
Try finding new and exciting ways to create memories every year.
For example, consider starting any of these traditions:
- decorating your home with your children
- exchanging gifts with loved ones
- celebrating Friendsgiving with chosen family
- baking your favorite festive dessert with your best friend
- hosting a holiday happy hour with coworkers
- booking a vacation by yourself or with a friend
“If dealing with grief, come up with traditions to celebrate your loved one’s life,” adds Langham. “Reflect on the good memories you had with them and find ways to honor those things.”
It’s easy to get caught up thinking about everyone else during the holidays. But you’re important, too.
“One of the most helpful things we can do during difficult times is to treat ourselves with genuine kindness and caring,” says psychotherapist Stephanie Longtain, LCSW, who practices in Houston.
So, try taking a step back to prioritize your well-being in order to restore and refresh your energy.
You can practice self-love and engage in self-care activities, like:
If you can, try spending time with people who make you smile, laugh, and feel loved — whether that’s your family, friends, kids, partner, or someone else.
Langham reminds us that you can also “bring along a support person (e.g., a friend or significant other) to help you feel more comfortable in whatever environment you will be in.”
Can’t physically be with your loved ones this year? Longtain recommends setting up a phone or video call.
“If you don’t have family or have a poor relationship with your family, try to connect with your friends,” she says. (Think: throwing a party or being a plus-one to a friend’s event.) “If you don’t have friends, maybe try to volunteer or give back [to] your community.”
The holiday season can feel like it lasts forever when you don’t enjoy it. But Langham reminds us that each holiday is just another day on the calendar.
“While we tend to make a big deal out of them in the United States, remembering the fact that these same days may not even be acknowledged in other countries may help to take some of the pressure off,” she says.
Just because they’re temporary doesn’t mean that they’re any less hard to deal with, of course. But this reframe might help to relieve some stress.
Good news: It’s entirely possible to start liking the holidays after years (or decades) of disliking them — if that’s something you’re hoping for.
“If you change your circumstances or invest in understanding the hate, you can certainly grow to change your relationship with the holidays,” says Longtain.
“On the other hand, it might always be your least favorite time of the year, and that’s OK. You don’t have to like the holidays!” In this case, Longtain suggests that you simply acknowledge and accept that it won’t be your favorite time of year.
But if your goal is to stop hating the holidays and start embracing them, these tips can help:
- accept how you feel
- set boundaries
- create new traditions
- practice self-care
- connect with loved ones
- speak with a therapist
Above all else, it’s important to remember that the holidays are just a few days out of the year. They might suck — trust me, I know. But they’re temporary, and we’ll get through them. Who knows? With these tips, we might even start to like them.
Morgan Mandriota is a New York-based writer who is passionate about exploring the intersection of pleasure, healing, and holistic well-being. She currently works as a staff writer with Psych Central where she specializes in creating content about sex, relationships, mental health, and alternative approaches to wellness. Her work has been published in notable publications, including Betches, Bumble, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, Health, mindbodygreen, Shape, Tinder, Verywell Mind, and Well+Good. In her free time, she enjoys chasing sunsets, playing video games, spending time in nature, swimming in a sea of CBD salve, trying different therapy practices, and working on her passion project Highly Untamed. Connect with Morgan on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website here to learn more.