While others are baking Christmas cookies and scaling their roofs to hang up sparkling lights, you might not be feeling as sweet and sparkly about the holidays. All of the cheer and merriment of the holidays can shine a bright light on whatever issue you might be facing—a loss of a loved one, the loss of a pet, a year that didn’t go as planned, a relationship ending, or a personal challenge—and you’d rather stay under the covers and wake up when it’s January. It’s tough to be going through a difficult time when everything around you is turning into a Hallmark card. But going into hibernation til January isn’t practical (or healthy), so I put together a game plan to help you through December. And maybe, just maybe, you might enjoy it a little bit too.
If you are experiencing a loss that has you feeling empty and sad, use your emotions to pay tribute. If you lost a family member this year, you can do this by working on a photo album, writing a personal tribute you can share with other family members, or sharing memories of the person you lost. If your loss is a relationship ending, try to switch the focus and pay tribute to your own life. In what ways have you been neglecting yourself? What are some things you could do for just you that would restore your spirit? If it’s a beloved family pet that you lost, pay tribute and donate some of your time to the local animal shelter or create a positive memory by framing a picture of your cherished pet. Try to take some small steps that create a feeling of comfort in you.
2. Cultivate gratitude.
Whether times are great or times are tough, gratitude is the number one instant mood lifter. Take the time out to notice what’s going right. Even if you are going through a difficult personal challenge, there is always something to be grateful for in your life. Think of three things when you wake up in the morning or make a list of all the things you are grateful for when your day ends. You will be reminding yourself to pay attention to and spend some time with the positive.
3. Scan for the things you like.
Maybe you aren’t going through a loss or a specific problem right now, you just don’t like the holidays because you don’t like where your life is at right now. You aren’t quite ready to put a big Christmas bow around your life yet. Remember, your life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to enjoy it. If you feel like your life is a work in progress, put yourself on a mission to scan for what you do like about the holidays. You don’t have to put your happiness on hold just because you have some personal goals still in progress. It could be as simple as treating yourself to some down-time, baking your favorite holiday treat, or starting some new traditions with friends or family.
4. Invest in your relationships.
When you are faced with an obstacle, it’s your support system that matters most. Lean on family and friends. Reach out. Talk to them. Your relationships contribute greatly to your overall well-being. Don’t go solo, let others lift you up. Even better? Grab a friend and take a walk or go to a group fitness class. Moving your body and connecting with friends are two ways to greatly enhance your overall well-being.
5. Do something kind for someone else.
The best way to get out of your own head—especially when it’s a painful or sorrowful place to be—is to redirect your focus to someone else. Giving back to someone else is not only kind, it’s the best way to feel better about yourself. Donate your time to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or sign up for Meals on Wheels to deliver meals to senior citizens. You can become a Big Brother or Big Sister, foster animals, or give of your time however you like. Stepping outside of ourself to care for someone else is a great way to feel better.
6. Be open to new traditions.
If people or circumstances in your life have changed to where you can’t have the same holiday that you like to have, simply start new traditions. It might be hard to do things differently if you liked how things used to be, but you have the power to create new traditions for your family to cherish. Start with these questions: 1. What do you want your holiday to be like this year? 2. How can you make that happen? Keep an open mind and realize that while the holidays might not look like they have in the past, you have room to try something new and perhaps a bit unique. Maybe this year you plan a trip to someplace warm, take yourself out on a date, sign up for a yoga retreat, or rent a cabin for you and your friends and host a girl’s weekend.
7. Flood your brain with funny.
Don’t you just love the feeling of laughing so hard you get tears in your eyes? Tune in to the latest episode of Jimmy Kimmel, sit down with your super hilarious friend, or dig out Chevy Chase’s Christmas vacation from the movie archives. Whatever makes you laugh, immerse yourself in it for a little levity and an escape from what’s weighing you down. Laughter really is the best medicine.
December might be painful for you because of what you are going through, but you can make it better with lots of self-compassion and kindness. Even during hard times, you have a choice about what you think and what you feel I hope you even discover some magical moments of joy this holiday season.