The Mighty Logo

4 Tips for Facing the Holidays When Things Aren’t Holly-Jolly

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

2017 has been a tough year. Sure, there were moments of true, absolute joy, but there were also moments of total devastation. As far as I can tell, this is a universal human experience. But for those of us in the midst of a devastating storm during the holidays, life can feel unusually cruel. The season of comfort and joy can quickly become the season of “Is-it-January-yet?”

So if you are this person, or if you are close to this person, or if you are just a decent human who has empathy for these persons, here are a few tips on how to tackle the weeks ahead:

1. Make your social circle as small or as big as you need.

This year I had surgery three days before Thanksgiving. God bless my family, they really tried to make every accommodation to include me and my husband in Thanksgiving. But the truth is I really wasn’t feeling up to it. I wanted a quiet day at home, just the two of us. So that is exactly what we did.

My best friend lost her fiance in October. It is horrific, and tragic, and traumatizing. For Thanksgiving, she went to her grandma’s house where she spent the day surrounded by dozens of close family members. She said there was laughter, tears and always a set of arms ready to give a hug. It was exactly what she needed.

Whether you need space or you need people, do what is best for you that day. Don’t allow social pressures or obligations to dictate your holiday plans.

2. Accept help, even if you aren’t real sure what to ask for.

One of the most common things to say to someone going through a hard time is, “Let me know if you need anything.” But, let’s be honest, sometimes life is so upside down you don’t even know what you need. This is only compounded when you factor in the chaos of the holiday season.

That’s totally fine. It’s OK to not know! In these moments, don’t hesitate to say something like, “Thank you so much for the offer. To tell you the truth, I am so overwhelmed right now I don’t even know what I need.”

The beautiful thing about life is that often in our weakest moments, grace peaks its head in and somehow delivers things we didn’t even know to ask for. Allow the people around you to step in and step up, even if you aren’t sure what that will look like.

For those who want to help, try meeting mundane needs. Shovel a driveway, take out the trash, drop off some groceries, stop over for a short visit, offer to help wrap gifts. These simple gestures are often the most appreciated. Also, take the burden of decisions out of the equation. “I will be over before 5 p.m. to shovel your driveway” is a much easier offer to accept than, “Let me know what time you want me to come over.”

3. Practice gratitude.

It can be hard to not get bogged down in negative emotions when it feels like everyone is living in a Norman Rockwell painting but you. But as the saying goes, the happiest people are grateful people. Find something, anything, that gives your heart a burst of joy, and be thankful that thing exists. Examples include (but are not limited to): really good Christmas cookies, cats in Santa hats, the Mariah Carey Christmas album, Salvation Army bell ringers, those Hallmark dancing snowmen, people who decorate their houses with tons of twinkling lights, and, of course, Netflix.

4. Be gracious (and celebrate the small victories).

We all have dreaded holiday encounters:

  • Reading a Christmas card letter detailing the career successes of your neighbor when you can no longer work.
  • Congratulating your second cousin on her pregnancy when you have been trying to conceive for two years.
  • Watching people joyfully traveling to see family when you’re spending the holidays alone.
  • Listening to your friend go on about his exciting holiday plans when it took you days just to muster enough energy to attend one party.
  • Opening lovely gifts from friends and family knowing you don’t have the money to reciprocate the gesture.
  • Getting through New Year’s Eve without your person to kiss.

These moments may make you want to burst into tears (or hit someone in the face with an Elf on a Shelf doll), but do your best to muddle through with manners: thank the hosts, congratulate those celebrating, and politely excuse yourself if it all gets to be too much. Trust me, I know some of these things cut deep. So if you manage to successfully navigate sticky situations without completely losing your self-control, cheers to you! Way to go! Grab yourself a celebratory beverage, and sip to a job well done!

The holidays can be tough for so many reasons. My wish for all of you in the thick of the struggle this year is the energy to get through the weeks ahead and the clarity to know that things will get better.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty image by Kerkez

Originally published: December 14, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home