The bloating of Thanksgiving and the bloodshed of Black Friday are behind us, and now Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s celebrations are ahead of us. It’s the most joyous time of the year, right? You’re ridiculously happy and emotionally stable right now, aren’t you? Not so much? Yeah, me neither. For one thing, we’re down to about three hours of cold, gray daylight every day. Seriously, yesterday I thought I’d pop out for a walk at the reasonable time of 3:45, but it was already so dark I would have needed one of those spelunking headlamps to safely navigate my neighborhood streets. At the risk of sounding like an emo poem I wrote in 7th grade, constant darkness outside is enough to make me feel constantly dark inside.
Whether it’s family drama, bad weather, relationship problems, financial issues, cabin fever, or some crappy combination of all of the above, a lot of people I know are having a rough time right now. How can you navigate the hyper-joyful holiday seasons when you’re not feeling so merry yourself? Well, here are 8 things to try…
1. Make your own traditions. I really love the holidays, but I’m not a big fan of some of the ways people celebrate them. Getting drunk with a huge crowd of people, for example, is one of my least favorite activities, but I did it for years every December 31st because duh, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You know what? Screw that. For the past couple years my best friend, boyfriend and I have turned New Year’s Eve into a low-key and meaningful holiday. We wear comfy clothes, make dinner, drink wine, and spend time reflecting on the past year and shaping our goals for the next year. It’s nerdy and genuine and inspiring–and it has transformed New Year’s Eve from my least favorite holiday into one of my favorites. Don’t be afraid to celebrate how you want to celebrate, whether that means replacing old traditions with new ones, or adding some new traditions to your current holiday schedule.
2. Help someone out. You can do it in an organized way, like volunteering for Meals on Wheels, or you can do it in a personal way, like taking your teen niece out to lunch and listening to her vent about boy troubles. However you do it, helping other people is guaranteed to give you a boost of positive energy.
3. Free yourself from obligations that don’t feel right to you. Do you always go into debt buying extravagant gifts for every far-flung cousin and get stressed out paying it off for months afterwards? Have you gotten stuck planning the office holiday party every year because no one else will do it? Take a step back from the things that you’ve always done and reassess if they are what you actually want to be doing. It can be scary to question things and rethink your role, but you only have so much time, energy, and money to go around–be mindful of how you spend all of those things, especially during the busy holiday season. People will understand.
4. Get away. Winter weather and being stuck indoors all day tends to spark one of the worst feelings in the world: stagnancy. A powerful way to combat this is to introduce some new scenery into your life. Your mini getaway doesn’t have to be expensive; just spending the day wandering around a small town just outside your city (or even an unfamiliar neighborhood in your city) can be enough to break up your tired routine and rejuvenate you.
5. Reconnect with people. Sadness and depression tends to isolate you from your friends, which in turn makes you more depressed. Set up a weekly happy hour with coworkers or invite a couple friends over to watch a movie. If that feels like too much (I feel you, girl), write a letter or email to a far-flung family member. No matter how you do it, reinforcing your connections with people will help you feel less alone.
6. Get some sun. I know what you’re thinking: WHAT SUN?!?! And yes, that giant glowing orb can be hard to spot in the fall and winter when it makes its fleeting appearance behind all the dark clouds and sheets of stinging rain. But even though it only comes out for a few hours a day, it’s still out, and you can still benefit from it. You know how every magazine interview with a dermatologist includes a stern warning about how you need to wear sunscreen even when it’s cloudy because the sun can still damage your skin? In the winter, this is good news! It means even when we can’t see it or feel it, we’re still able to soak up a little of the sun’s invisible rays. Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes before work or on your lunch break to walk around the block and get some fresh air–trust me, you might get wet and cold in the process, but ultimately you’ll feel better.
7. Go to the library. When my boyfriend was reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, he used to open the book and say, “I’m off to Sweden now! I’ll be back in 50 pages!” and I would yell, “Stop talking like a smug middle school English teacher who sits backwards in his chair to make his students think he’s cool!” but in a way, he was right. Books are a great way to get you out of your own head and your own world. Take advantage of the crappy weather by curling up with a blanket, a hot cup of tea, and a stack of new reading material.
8. Give yourself a break. If your holiday schedule could be described as “Go! Go! Go!,” give yourself permission to stop every once in awhile. Take a breath, eat a piece of fudge, and remember: if you want to take care of other people, you’ve gotta take care of yourself first. That’s nothing to feel bad about it–it’s just a fact of life.
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