5 Tips for Staying Sane This Holiday Season
Oh, the holiday season. From bedecked halls to office parties, the season of celebration is upon us, bringing opportunities to socialize, gift give and partake in family traditions. But while we may be inundated with bright and merry messaging in our inboxes, the holidays can also lead to feelings of anxiety, exhaustion and overwhelm—leaving us feeling depleted and lonely. We asked therapist, health coach and chef Samantha Elkrief, LMSW, and Jenny D. Brice, MFT, MPH for their five tips for staying sane this holiday season. Read on to discover the sanity-saving actions that make the tops of their holiday lists.
1. Redefine your relationship with the holiday season.
Staying sane this holiday season might begin with redefining what the season means for you. Are you someone who runs from one engagement to another—or from one store or website to another— ticking things off your “to-do” list in an attempt to make everyone else happy? It may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate. “I redefined my relationship with the holiday season,” says Jenny D. Brice, MFT, MPH. “After years of running myself ragged, I stopped buying into the frenetic energy, the consumerism and pressure to find the perfect gift. I stopped buying seasonal gifts, but I do take advantage of the holiday sales on my favorite items, and I stock up so I can gift year round at my leisure and with intention.”
In addition, rethinking the pressure we often place on ourselves and loved ones to be together during this one day or over that specific weekend may lead to a more relaxed holiday season. So often, we feel obligated to cram in visits with numerous family members in multiple locations or we’ll upset our loved ones—but we can end up feeling resentful and worn out from the hectic pace, stress of travel and limited time to connect with others.
Jenny agrees. “I also discarded the narrative that somehow spending time, in this certain way with family/friends during this particular moment specifically, has more value over other opportunities for quality time and tradition,” Jenny says. “I made it low stakes and provided myself with the opportunity to intentionally engage in and create rituals that have meaning and value to me and my loved ones.” Sounds like something we can get on board with.
2. Up Your Self-Care Regimen.
We’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Taking time out for you during the month of giving to others is a key factor in staying sane during this holiday season. Showing yourself some self-care will not only help keep you physically healthy, but it will also prevent you from feeling emotionally burned out by the time your holiday actually arrives. “Schedule ‘me’ time,” advises Samantha. “Between shopping for gifts, traveling, meeting end of the year work deadlines, seeing family, taking care of winter colds and attending holiday parties, December flies by! It’s easy to get swept up in the business of the month and lose track of taking care of… you!”
Carving out a few minutes to check in with yourself may help you recalibrate your approach to self-care. Pay attention to points of stress in your body; notice the last time you took a breath that filled your diaphragm. You may find that the trusted self-care regimen you used all summer and fall needs a boost now that December is upon us.
Jenny says, “I increase my self-care, update my wellness plan and make an effort to maintain my routine. This is imperative to self preservation. My needs are different during the winter months and I try to pay attention to that and honor them. In addition to the holidays, the seasonal transition brings with it a decrease in temperatures and daylight hours, and ushers in some mood changes for many people—myself included.”
While languorous baths surrounded by candles and fresh flowers in an Instagram-worthy tub may not be feasible, there are so many easy ways to show yourself some love. How you care for yourself doesn’t have to look like it does for others—and that’s the beauty of it.
“Take a moment to schedule in something that helps you recharge and ground, whether that means going to a workout class, going for a walk, taking a sweet epsom salt bath or going dancing,” Samantha advises. Whatever you do, she says, “Don’t forget to do you!”
3. Practice Saying “No.”
It might be tempting to RVSP “yes” to every invite you receive (the festive attire! the cocktails!), but learning to say “no” is a surefire way for staying sane this holiday season. “Don’t be afraid to say no,” Samantha says. “The holidays can be an exciting time, especially for extraverts! But it can also be a lot.”
She continues, “Instead of getting pulled into the tide of invites and parties, take a moment to ask yourself what you really want. If you see that you’re attending gatherings out of a sense of obligation rather than excitement, take a step back and practice saying no. Say yes to the things that really light you up and enjoy.”
For Jenny, learning to say no has been a crucial step in protecting her health—in day to day life, but especially around the holidays. “I stopped saying yes to all the invites, especially the ones to guaranteed drama parties!” she says. “I choose one or two family/friend gatherings with people I know will honor the true spirit of the season: celebration, community and gratitude. My mental health is not negotiable and takes precedence over someone else’s temporary feelings of offense.”
Jenny recognizes the all-too-real pressure some of us may feel to attend an event, however (office parties, anyone?). For those situations, planning in advance may go a long way to keeping you sane. “If you’ve made the decision (or feel forced) to attend an event that you believe would cause more harm than if you skipped it, make additional effort to take care of yourself,” Jenny advises. “You might begin by practicing visualizing things going well, focusing your attention on the benefits of this choice and acknowledging and accepting that you have made the decision to be there and that you have the freedom to rescind your RSVP. Have an exit plan and have access to your own transportation, let it be known that you aren’t planning to stay long (manage expectations up front), and if possible, bring along an ally.” And once you’ve prepped accordingly, Jenny says, “Then give yourself a pat on the back and book a trip to an island for next year.”
4. Aim for Authenticity.
For those of us who relish deep, meaningful conversations and connections, skimming the surface with acquaintances or loved ones can feel awkward or forced and leave us feeling left out in the cold. Resisting small talk can seem awkward initially—but the benefits will outweigh any hesitation we may experience. Finding ways to really connect can change how we view holiday socializing. “Be real,” Samantha encourages. “When you connect with friends and family, see if you can get past some of the small talk and truly connect.”
For anyone struggling with strained relationships, loss or stress, the holidays can also unearth feelings of sadness and loneliness. Understanding this and acknowledging such feelings are part of greeting them authentically. “The holidays are a time of wonder and joy, but they are also a time of conflict for many,” Samantha says. “For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can bring up a lot of grief. Strained relationships with family can also lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Not to mention seasonal depression, which is very real and occurs during the winter months (i.e. now). Yes, Christmas carols are playing, but behind those smiles, many people are suffering. Don’t let the Hallmark movies and Christmas carols fool you. If you’re struggling, know you’re not alone and reach out. If you know someone who is struggling, give them a call.”
5. Learn the “SAD” Symptoms + Reach Out When Necessary.
Feeling blue this time of year—from the winter weather or from the festivities—is incredibly common, and nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, Jenny shares, “While some only experience mild shifts or may even thrive during the winter months, about 10 millions Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD), a diagnosable, seasonal form of depression.” Women are at increased risk of developing SAD, Jenny cautions. “SAD is reported to be four times more common in women, with an onset of symptoms beginning between the age of 18-30,” she says. “Those elements, coupled with the heightening and hyper focus on family and nostalgia, can facilitate a complex brew of emotions and triggers.”
Making mental health a priority is a crucial step in staying sane this holiday season. We can push away how we’re feeling to take care of others or to create a “filtered” version of our holiday happiness, but in the end, we are the ones who will suffer from silence. When feelings of depression or anxiety take hold, reaching out to trusted family, friends or mental health professionals is perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves this holiday season.
Seeking out other tips for living a more mindful life to carry with you all year long? Discover these tips for making the most out of a mindful existence.