Check Your Vibes: 9 Ways To Ace The Most Soul-Crushing Season Of The Year

Look, not to be a huge Debbie Downer or anything, but this season is the hardest of the year for a lot of the planet. Yes, the empty, frigid days of January and February are more brutal than October (if you live in a cold climate), but the hard part about this season is that this is when everything starts. Around mid-September, it’s all just innocent fall fun, until time starts moving at the speed of light and you’ve suddenly reached Halloween which then landslides into Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas and endless cold weather until all of a sudden your sanity has not seen the light of day for a long while. Get ready, friends: you and I both know that department stores and the most annoying of advertisers will be trying to make holiday happen the second you wake up to nurse your post-Halloween hangover.

What I love about spring and summer is that for all its focus on taking holidays and chilling out, it’s ultimately seen as a time to focus on the present, or to work on moving forward. In spring and summer, there are fewer rituals or expectations or moments of haunting nostalgia you’d rather leave in the back seat. This time of year, however, is all about regression. You become your past, spending your holidays with people you only see once a year who hold all your most distant memories, some of which you’d rather leave behind. You carry out seasonal traditions even if they no longer make any sense for your wellbeing just because they’re what you’ve always done. The holidays fly by as you run as fast as you can to keep up and get everything ready in time and scramble to seem like you have it all together, yet with all that frenzying, time also stands still. There is no mental space for making progress or focusing on your actual year-round life, it’s only about getting through the season intact.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this time of year is also wonderful. It’s all about celebration, love, and time with loved ones we rarely get to see, and I treasure that. Still, I am an anxious person who does not love dealing with the kind of emotional baggage the holidays bring up, so I have found that the best way to actually have a good time during this season is to make the holidays your bitch. It’s all about beating them at your own game, avoiding the clichéd pitfalls that advertisers live for (frantically dashing through a big box store at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve and/or making a drunk ass of yourself at the bar Thanksgiving weekend, anyone?), and mustering as many Put-Together Adult moments as you can so you feel like you are actually doing this life thing alright. And all that starts with Halloween! There is such a thing as winning at a season, and you are going to do exactly that. Here’s how!

1. Do a post-Halloween deep clean. Dedicate a whole afternoon to the kind of frenzied all-over cleaning you usually only do your house is a mess and you’ve got an hour left before Thanksgiving guests are supposed to show up. This isn’t just the beginning of the holiday season, but the beginning of hibernation season, so you need a somewhat orderly space to be stuck in for the next few months if you want to stay even remotely sane. Have yourself an off-season spring cleaning session and refresh every little corner of the house, even the parts you hate cleaning. It’ll be so worth it when unexpected guests start dropping by for the holidays, and even better in the dead of late January when you haven’t left the house for days straight.

2. Keep cleaning. Now that your home is spotless (or has at least shed some of its “disaster zone chic” look), make a plan with yourself to tidy up after yourself for a few minutes every time you take things off the closet or out of the shelves. Make a deal with yourself to spend a little time each week maintaining all that cleaning progress at least through the end of December. By the end of that you’ll probably have gotten yourself into a habit and, more importantly, it’ll ensure your house is livable throughout the whole season without needing another massive cleaning marathon, which you definitely will have zero time for.

3. Do some emotional stock-taking. Raise your hand if at least some part of you dreads the holidays (it’s okay, I don’t think you’re a grinch). Take some time now, before the season gets crazy, to think about what it is you dislike most about these celebrations. Think about what you can do to minimize those aspects of the season. Is there an event you hate that you can get away with skipping this year? If there’s a holiday- or winter-related chore you hate, maybe you can find a way to delegate it to someone else. Also take this time to think about what you like about the season, even if it’s just a few very small things, so you can spend your energy looking forward to those things instead of dreading the rest.

4. Think about everyone you hate. Well, the nicer way to say this is to consider whether there are any problem relatives or friends you struggle spending time around during the holidays. If they are triggering for you or are guaranteed to tear down all your life choices between fighting with your Aunt Carol at the Thanksgiving table again, come up with a game plan to handle them. That may mean leaving the room or it may mean coming up with a rehearsed response to their attempts to stir up drama, but whatever it is, come up with it now so you can spend the next few weeks dreading their presence a little bit less.

5. Make an emotional backup plan. Just like you need to plan to handle people who stress you out, it’s important to plan what you’ll do if things go terribly wrong. Seek out a friend or supportive person who’d be able to pick up the phone or have your back if you find yourself overwhelmed by your difficult relative or the overall stress of the holidays. Think about what you’ll do to calm down if you get angry or worked up and keep that ritual in the back of your mind to help you chill out under pressure.

6. Take special care with your schedule. Set out to keep your weekly routine as normal as possible over the next two months so you’re more likely to feel grounded. If there are any routine activities on your schedule that you only do out of obligation or that are no longer relevant to your goals, consider cutting them out. It’s the perfect time of year to reduce stress and free up any extra tme you can find.

7. Do as much planning as possible right now. If you’re traveling for the holidays, figure out the logistics now, in October. If you’re not sure what you’re doing for Halloween yet, definitely figure out that today too! You will surely wake up on November 1st to Christmas songs on that one local radio station you hate and jingle bell-laden Target commercials blaring on the TV, so it’s hard to stress what a difference it makes mentally to have things squared away before all that starts. If you know the set dates of upcoming holiday celebrations, decide now what you’ll wear, what you’ll bring with you, and what you need to prepare beforehand. Schedule anything you aren’t able to do right away so when the time comes, all you have to do is show up, then sit back and marvel at how you totally made the holidays your bitch.

8. Get a jump on your shopping. Now is also a great time to decide what you’ll be giving to each person on your holiday gift list (ugh I know, how is this even happening, it was JUST August like ten seconds ago). Last year, I did all my gift shopping in October, and I regret not being as diligent about that this time around. It was so much less stressful! Even just going into the season with a game plan is better than the panicked mid-December floundering most of us resort to.

9. Enjoy things as much as possible. Halloween is fun. The holidays are fun! Appreciate this time as much as you can, because as just as special a time of year as it is an emotionally draining one. When you’ve got some of your bigger stressors out of the way, it’s a bit easier to get lost in the positives of this time of year and feel like you can actually relax. Take extra care of yourself right now, even if it feels indulgent to you. Besides making this a more low-stress experience, it will make you a better friend and family member. Enjoy every moment that you can, and relish in the feeling of crisp air and leaves crunching beneath your feet while it lasts.