Sure, the holidays are filled with great food, fun parties, and general good cheer (I was at a crowded Macy’s yesterday, and I wasn’t shoved once!), but for a lot of people, this is anything but the most wonderful time of year. Those of us in periods of transition — even positive ones — are especially susceptible to the feelings of loneliness, frustration, depression, and the stress the holidays can elicit. After the jump, a few tips for surviving the holidays during some of life’s biggest transitions.You’re recently unemployed
The national unemployment rate in the U.S. is the highest it’s been in over 14 years, which means you’re far from alone. Take comfort this season in favorite holiday traditions that don’t cost much: pile your friends or family in the car and take a drive to see all the Christmas lights (luckily, gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in ages), put your baking skills to use and have a cookie-trade with some friends, get a few holiday rentals, make a big batch of hot chocolate and have an at-home movie night.
When it comes to holiday gifts, agree on a spending cap with your friends and family and consider making gifts this year. (Do you knit? Make a few scarves! Mixed CDs, baked goods, a thoughtful photo album, or even a heartfelt letter are other great options.)
It’s your first holiday season with a new partner
Whether you’re stressed about meeting his family for the first time or concerned about an appropriate gift, it’s important to remember that this is a great time of year to have someone special to share it with. To avoid awkwardness when meeting a significant other’s family for the first time this holiday season, ask about appropriate attire (you don’t want to show up in a party dress if everyone in his family is in jeans and NASCAR sweatshirts). Also inquire about anything unique you should be prepared for (like a cousin with Tourette’s Syndrome who’s likely to twitch through the meal), and whether there are any topics you should avoid with certain family members. For bonus points, bring a dish and a small gift for the hostess.
As for a gift for your new sweetie, listen for hints and clues she may drop, avoid jewelry or anything too personal if you’ve been together less than a couple of months, and consider tickets to an event he may enjoy. Any gift that leads to quality time together and new memories is ideal.
It’s your first holiday season since ending a long relationship
The plus side is you don’t have to worry about shelling out money for a gift, or acting delighted when he gives you socks again, but that doesn’t do much to ease the loneliness of your first holiday season after a breakup. This is the time to surround yourself with friends and family and to focus on what you’re thankful for. Sit down with a pen and paper and make a list — sometimes just the act of writing it all down reminds us how much we have going for us. With all the parties, it’s also a great time of year to enjoy dressing up, feeling good about yourself, and flirting with other singles. Who knows, maybe you’ll even meet your next boyfriend under the mistletoe.
While it’s a wonderful, exciting time for you, your pregnancy may add more stress to an already overwhelming time of year — and you can’t even drink the eggnog to take the edge off! So be sure to give yourself some extra pampering this season: schedule a prenatal massage, treat yourself to a holiday manicure, and hit the salon for a kick-ass hairstyle to highlight how glowing and gorgeous you are.
You’ve recently lost a loved one
There’s nothing like the holidays to make us miss the ones we’ve lost more than ever. If this is your first holiday season since losing a loved one, it’s especially important to do something to honor the person (or animal!) who’s passed away. Bake his favorite cookie, make a donation to a charity in her name, and share favorite memories with others who were close. A great way to help deal with your grief is to do something for someone else in need, so consider volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen or delivering meals to the elderly. Taking time to focus on others may relieve some of your pain and give you a renewed sense of community and human connection. If the last thing you want to think about is turkey, fruit cake, and Christmas carols, though, you may want to schedule a tropical getaway this holiday season. Never underestimate the power of white sand and sun to feed the soul.
Finally, keep in mind that there are no rules or laws regarding the holidays. Social obligations aside, you decide what and how much you want to do this holiday season. Your loved ones are still going to be there for you even if you don’t have it in you to make their party this time. After all, it’s not as if the holidays are like the Olympics and only come around every four years (but wouldn’t that make things easier?).