The holidays are here, with bright lights, Christmas music, and daunting expectations for all. The ever-present holiday cheer can make preexisting sadness seem more poignant by contrast.
In many cases, the holiday season itself gets the blame for our lingering feelings of sadness or inadequacy. What should be a time of happiness, reunions, and fellowship can become a symbol of stress and something we wish to avoid. So how can you beat back the blues and make the most of this holiday season?
Don’t Try to Do It All
Much of the stress we feel comes from our own expectations. When we set impossible goals for ourselves, we will inevitably be disappointed by the results. Set realistic standards for what you can get done. It’s pretty unlikely that you can host two holiday social events back-to-back without sufficient time to clean up and recover. So don’t set that standard for yourself if you’re doomed to fail.
If several people have asked you to do things, be realistic about what you can commit to. Juggling obligations is stressful any time of year, but with the increased pressure of upholding the holiday spirit, fulfilling others’ expectations can be more difficult than ever. Special circumstances that vary by country, state, and region form an additional source of stress this time around.
Learn to Say No
It’s the season of giving, not demanding. Children don’t deserve everything on their Christmas list, and adults don’t deserve everything they ask of you. You are allowed to say no, and you can be nice about it. It doesn’t generate goodwill if you grudgingly give in when you don’t want to–it will only cause more problems down the road.
Be upfront about your objections, and state your reasons clearly and calmly. While at first, your relatives might be caught off guard, in the end, nearly everyone appreciates knowing where things stand.
Volunteer to Help Others
Though you can’t do it all yourself, you can do a lot to help others. Check in with your closest circle and ask everyone what you can do to help. Helping out at a local shelter or soup kitchen is another excellent way to get the feel-good vibe to counter the holiday blues. Helping others makes us feel more connected and reduces the stress and loneliness that often hits the hardest this time of year.
Don’t Dwell in the Past
While it’s comforting to imagine that we can repeat the happiest holiday memories each year, reality often doesn’t work that way. New challenges will arise and add to our stress load, and 2020 has clearly demonstrated that we can never be certain what will happen next.
We can do our best to take it in stride, but everybody will be affected. What we can do, however, is try not to get our hearts set on everything being just like it was last year. Setting up unrealistic hopes will only lead to disappointment. Try to be flexible and take each new development in stride.
Get Enough Sleep
While we all know that we need sleep to function at our best, it can be hard to hold ourselves accountable to a reasonable bedtime. If you’re stressing about the holidays, you might be going to bed later as you try to cram it all in, which pushes the limits on your daytime functionality.
Losing sleep has effects far beyond a little grogginess, however. It can make holiday weight gain even worse, and cause brain fog, loss of balance, and even lead to high blood pressure. Don’t let the strain of getting it all done cut into your sleep. Limit your screen time before bed, dim the lights as you wind down, and block, cover, or filter sources of blue light before you settle down to sleep.
It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
The worst stress comes from the expectations that we place upon ourselves. The pain and frustration stem from the sense that we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us. It’s not that things aren’t the way we want it–it’s that we convinced ourselves it would be. This can make the disappointment seem more upsetting than it needs to be.
Work on ways to settle for what you can accomplish, and not obsess over perfecting every detail. If you create reasonable expectations for yourself and others, falling short won’t be a blow to your sense of self-worth.
Remember to enjoy what you can this holiday season, even if some things aren’t the way you would like them to be. We might not be able to see friends and family members the way we normally do, but we can still find joys in all the little things, like video calls and mail-ordered gifts. Together, we can get through this!