Holidays are steeped in traditions that are centered around the family and there is a hallmark sentiment that everyone is rejoicing in love with their near and dear during this most festive time of the year. The truth looks a bit different though. Family conflict, tension and even estrangement are more common than you may think. One study found more than 40% of participants had experienced family estrangement at some point.
But knowing you are not alone doesn’t make things happier or easier. The holidays are still hard and may bring up feelings of sadness, loneliness, jealousy, anger, shame or worthlessness.
To help combat these feelings, here are therapist-verified tips to help beat the holiday blues:
- Validate Your Feelings. If you fight the thoughts and feelings or judge yourself for having them, then you increase your emotional upset. Acknowledge that you feel sad and allow yourself to feel that sadness. This builds resiliency that you can be present with the uncomfortable feeling of sadness. It also increases self-trust that you can name and acknowledge the feelings you are having—this is especially helpful if your feelings were dismissed or not seen as a child. For example, “I’m feeling really sad and lonely that I am not on good terms with my family. This feeling is valid. I don’t have to pretend it’s not there. I can feel this sadness and use my coping skills to get through it.”
- Pick a Coping Skill or Self Care Tool That is Most Useful for You. There are myriad coping strategies to deal with feelings of sadness, disappointment and loneliness. Pick a tool that best supports you and be sure to practice it throughout the holidays. Tools include journaling, focusing on what is right in your life and practicing gratitude for that, meditation, yoga, running, watching a funny show or movie, noticing your negative thoughts and reframing them. There is no one right tool so just pick one and try it out.
- Set Boundaries for Topics of Conversation. To maintain your peace of mind during the holidays, set boundaries with your family on what you are and are not comfortable discussing. If your older brother always comments on your weight, simply tell him, “I am not interested in discussing my weight. I’d rather hear about my nephew’s soccer game.” If your grandmother always nags you about being single and childless, share that this isn’t something that you are open to discussing with her but you’d love to share about your lovely foster cat. Setting and keeping your boundaries will help you to feel empowered over your situation instead of feeling like you have no say in the conversations happening around the dinner table.
- Temporarily Delete Social Media from Your Phone. For many people social media can be triggering. This is especially true during the holidays when your feed is filled with photos of other people connecting with their family around the dinner table or unwrapping presents in matching pajamas. This may make a person who is excluded from such family gatherings melancholy or jealous they aren’t having the same experience. Allow yourself to take a break from this type of content so you’re not adding on to your emotional burden. It can be as easy as deleting the app from your phone and reinstalling after the New Year.
- Make a Plan for How You’ll Tackle the Day. Schedule a FaceTime check in with a friend. Enjoy a free yoga session on YouTube. Whatever you decide, make a plan ahead of time and stick with it. Literally put each activity in your calendar. This will keep you accountable and prevent you from having nothing to do and slipping into worsening feelings of loneliness or engaging in poor habits.
- Schedule a Therapy Appointment. If you’re currently working with a therapist, be sure to schedule a session during this time. If you’re not in therapy yet, consider reaching out and getting additional professional support during the holidays.
- Be of Service to Others. You can always be a support to others who are less fortunate than you by reaching out and volunteering. Clean out your coat closet and take your old coats to a local shelter, choose a child’s name off of a local Giving Tree program and go shopping for the gift, foster a homeless cat or dog through a local rescue group. You could even host a holiday dinner for others who are also alone. Be of service to others while being in service to yourself.
Only you can decide what is the best direction for you to maintain peace, mental wellness, and happiness during the holidays and the rest of the year and it is your sole job to protect your peace and wellbeing.