The U.S. commercial holiday season kicks off immediately after Halloween and continues on through the Super Bowl, and brings with it a horde of potential stressors. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, Kwanzaa.
Holiday travel, compounded by crazy weather, budget-straining gift shopping, obligatory office parties, or the potential drama attached to family visits can be more overwhelming than festive. And if you deal with anxiety, depression, trauma, or substance use issues, you might be counting the days until the holidays are over. Research by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found 64% of people with mental health issues report the holidays season makes their condition worse.
I’m a person in long-term recovery from addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but I’ve learned some simple ways to survive the holidays and have some fun in the process. Check out my top 10 holiday survival strategies:
Top 10 Holiday Survival Strategies
- Ask yourself what you want to do. Then do it. Take ten or fifteen minutes to contemplate the pros and cons of the holidays for you. Examine each holiday-related task on your list, doing an emotional check-in to see how you really feel about it. If it fills you with joy, go with it. If you feel dread mixed with a grudging sense of duty, forget it.
- Remember to have fun. Fun is an attitude, a state of mind. When you’re having fun, you’re more relaxed. Cultivate a sense of humor as you anticipate holiday challenges — like air travel, for instance. Pace yourself, arrange moments in your day where you can stop, breathe, meditate, and stretch your muscles. If you’re dreading doing something, and there’s no way you can get out of it, plan to reward yourself afterward, and visualize yourself enjoying the planned reward as you power on through the dreaded task. Make sure to follow through with rewarding yourself!
- Give yourself permission to stay home from holiday travel. One way to reduce stress is to exit the stressful situation. It’s okay to unplug and step back from the whole thing. Even if you’ve purchased your airfare, check out the cancellation and refund policy. You may find you can get all or most of your money back. Then stay home, binge Netflix, order carryout or delivery, follow your bliss. You can FaceTime or Skype with relatives and friends.
- If you decide to travel, allow plenty of time. Target an early arrival time at airports. That way, you’ll have a cushion of time against any possible delay or mishap. Expect, but don’t fear, long lines at TSA checkpoints. Plan ahead for how you’ll handle situations. If you feel stress and anxiety building, do this breathing exercise: slowly breathe in through your nose, saying, “Let,” then hold for a beat, and release that breath slowly out through your lips, saying, “go.” Repeat. It’ll help you calm the pounding heart, shaky muscles, or butterflies feeling in your stomach. If you’re driving, stop every two or three hours and stretch, walk around, give yourself some relaxation before jumping back in behind the wheel.
- Do something kind for somebody you’ve never met. Volunteer a few hours of your time at a food bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter, or other charity. Volunteering protects you from social isolation while you contribute to the greater good. It’s also a gratitude exercise; it gets you out of your head and into action. If you don’t have hours to volunteer, take a few minutes to open a door for someone, let somebody in your lane in heavy traffic, or pay the bridge toll for the car behind you.
- Focus on self-care and self-kindness. Treat yourself to pleasant experiences. Visualize good things coming your way, and take time to acknowledge your strengths. Make a list of self-enhancing statements and read them to yourself aloud before you go to sleep at night. Make time for physical exercise each day. Cardio and/or strength training lower stress levels, release endorphins and raise the levels of “feel good” neurotransmitters in your brain. Go out for a hike, a movie, dinner, or coffee. Book an appointment for acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, or beauty care.
- Revel in the opportunity to do all things in moderation. Take everything slowly. Remind yourself that each day in the holiday cavalcade is just another day — decked out in tinsel and glitter. Practice mindfulness meditation, slow breathing, and positive self-talk to center yourself and stay grounded. It’ll keep you from getting swept away by drinking, spending too much, or eating too much junk food. Make yourself a gratitude list and review it each morning. At night, before you go to sleep, list three things you’re grateful for and expect more good things to come your way.
- Do emotional “check-ins” throughout the day to assess how things affect you. This is important, whether you’re alone or visiting relatives and in-laws. The holiday season brings lots of memories with it, some good, some bad. When you monitor your inner state, you’ll be empowered to manage negative emotions. You can dispel or transform a negative mindset or emotional state. Soothe yourself by meditating, or try making a quick mental gratitude list. Take a walk, listen to music, or watch a funny YouTube video.
- Know that it’s okay to step back from or ignore the holiday hustle and bustle. But be tolerant of the people in your life who love it. You don’t have to fake enthusiasm for things that don’t raise your spirits. If you let them know your feelings without raining on their holiday parade, they’ll be less likely to pressure you to “get you into the spirit of things.”
- Know that it’s okay to celebrate the season in a big way. But tolerate the people in your life who don’t share your enthusiasm. Understand that every one of us has a unique perspective on the holiday season. Your friend or loved one may struggle emotionally at this time of the year, or may feel guilty for not being as excited about it as you are. Being mindful will enhance your enjoyment of the holidays.