Tips for Handling
Let’s be honest, the holidays can be hard. Expectations around enjoying “the most wonderful time of the year” lead many of us to feel more stress, anxiety, loneliness and grief. It’s normal.
This holiday season, you can take steps to take care of yourself.
Here are a few ways to do that.
Focus on quality over quantity. Prioritize the holiday activities that bring you joy. Fight the urge to agree to activities just because you think you should. You will feel more fulfilled and less stressed.
Plan ahead. Identify your boundaries and coping skills before the situation presents itself. Write out a plan or practice ahead of time if you need to.
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- Schedule a regular, 10-minute call. Texting is an easy way to connect, but don’t underestimate the power of a quick call. Research shows that making a regular, 10-minute phone call may help ease loneliness. It also gives you something to look forward to.
- Use the holiday season as an excuse to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. You could say something like, “I know it’s been a while, but I’m trying to check in with people before the end of the year. When are you free to catch up next week?”
- Boost the quality of the interactions you do have. Simply spending time around others won’t always relieve loneliness. The quality of your interactions matters. Ask yourself what you need. Is it time to just share a space or movie with someone? Or, do you need a deeper connection? If so, ask about things that will help you both connect, like mutual interests or new personal experiences.
- Fill your house with sound. Sound not only helps fill your space; it also fills your thoughts, which can make feelings of loneliness less overwhelming. Try:
- Podcasts and talk radio
- A favorite TV show/movie/YouTube video
- Do something you care about. Doing things you enjoy or that are meaningful to you can fill the time until you’re able to connect with someone again.
- Volunteer. If you’re up to it, find a homeless shelter, rescue center or another organization with a mission that speaks to you and reach out. This can also be a great way to interact with like-minded people.
- Spend time around animals. Find a rescue or rehab center in your area and volunteer or seek out adoption events. Some rescues have programs where you can foster a pet during the holidays or volunteer to take them on an outing.
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- Plan your 15-minute escape ahead of time. Choose something you can do anytime you need a quick getaway.
- Go on a walk around the neighborhood.
- Offer to go to the store.
- If you’re staying with family, or they’re staying with you, have your cup of coffee or tea outside in the morning to start the day off with something positive.
- If you need to explain your 15-minute break to family, here are some options to practice:
- “I need to walk off this food/stretch my legs. I’ll be right back.”
- “It’s a little stuffy/hot in here. I’m just going to grab some air.”
- “I’ve been so busy today, I haven’t even been outside. I’m going to step out for a moment.”
- “I’m on a streak getting in my walk/steps every day. I just need to walk around the block for 15 minutes.”
- Set limits on the amount of time you’ll spend at certain gatherings. If you already have a reason in mind for exiting early, research shows you’re more likely to stick with it in the moment. You can announce your plans to head out by a certain time when you first arrive. That will make it easier to follow through. If these are true for you, you could say:
- You promised to visit a friend who’s alone this holiday season.
- You signed up to volunteer and need to leave by [TIME] to make it to the location.
- You have other gatherings to visit. You want to spend a little time with everyone, so you need to leave by [TIME] to make your rounds.
- You wanted to make an appearance but you’re planning to leave by [TIME] to go home and rest.
- Focus conversations on positive memories.
- Bring out old photos or videos.
- Have a game or movie planned.
- Write down a list of funny memories to bring up.
- Here are a few ways to change the subject if tough conversations come up:
- “Could we save that conversation for another time? We’re only together a few times a year. I’m hoping to use this time to connect and catch up. I’d love to hear more about what you’ve been up to.”
- “I know that topic is important to you. But we can agree we won’t all agree on that. This is one of the few times a year that we can have some fun together as a family, so let’s focus on that. Here’s a game we could play.”
- Stick with a support person. If there’s someone in your family who you trust or get along with, ask them to stick by you/keep an eye on you during gatherings. This person can be your escape buddy and pull you out of conversations that begin to get stressful. If you can’t think of someone in your family, reach out to a friend beforehand and ask them if they can call you at a certain time so you have a moment to step away.
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- Give yourself permission to say “yes” to activities that you love – and “no” to everything else. It’s healthy to opt out of gatherings you dread or that you’re too overwhelmed to join. Ways to say “no” include:
- Tell the person that you cannot make it. You don’t need to apologize or explain.
- If you feel the need to explain, you can say something general. (“I wish I could, but I have a lot going on this week.”)
- If you feel that you can’t say “no” to a certain gathering, you can instead limit the amount of time you’ll spend there. (See “Stressed about spending time with family?” for tips).
- Make plans to meet up with the people you do want to see after the holidays. Schedule these meet-ups now so they happen and you have a gathering to look forward to.
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- Resist the urge to judge your feelings. Or fake them. Grief is complex. You may feel great one minute and sad the next. Remind yourself not to judge whatever emotions come up and not to fake feeling “fine” or “happy.” Healing starts by acknowledging your feelings.
- Give yourself permission to not celebrate this year if you don’t feel up to it.
- If you are celebrating, you can choose to still honor traditions you did with those you’ve lost as a way to honor and feel close to them.
- You might also make new traditions to honor those you’ve lost and find joy for yourself.
- Have your family or friends put their favorite memory of your loved one in a box and then read them all out loud together. You can revisit these when you need to.
- Get a new decoration each year that reminds you of your loved one.
- Try getting out of the usual meet up spot and go see a movie, visit a place where your family can play games, or go somewhere else to make new memories.
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- Set a budget for gifts, travel, food or whatever you typically spend money on. Don’t allow yourself to spend beyond that budget. You could even take out cash, put it in an envelope, and make that the only money you’re allowed to spend on holiday activities.
- Use the collective concern about rising prices as a reason to try a different type of gift exchange. You could say, “Everything costs more right now. We’re all feeling that. Let’s make it easier on ourselves and try a Secret Santa or white elephant this year.”
- Suggest a gift exchange as a way to try something new. Try saying:
- “I’ve always wanted to try a white elephant exchange, and of course, you all are the people I’d want to do it with. Could we try that this year?”
- “I’ve been really craving your [insert dish name] dish, would you want to do a meal exchange instead of gifts this year?”
- “This year has been tough on so many. Why don’t we make a donation in each other’s names this year as a way to give back together?”
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- Write down the things that make you feel you have a full, satisfying life. It’s okay if you don’t have all of those things right now or all the time. This is a list of things you need to feel fulfilled. Revisit it when you’re tempted to think you need what everyone else has. Getting what others have won’t always give you what you need.
- Reframe your thoughts. Write down how you’re feeling and then reframe that into something positive.
- “They are always having extravagant parties” → “I’m glad they’re enjoying their holidays, but I’m glad I don’t have to entertain a lot of people that I’m not close with. I’m happy to be with the folks I can be myself around.”
- “They’re such a close family.” → “I may not get along with/be near my family, but I do have friends and activities that I love.”
- “It looks like they’re having a better time than me.” → “This isn’t a competition, we can both be having a good time.”
Be intentional about social media use.
- During the holidays, make a plan to use social media to meet specific needs. When you open an app, ask yourself what you need, then type in the name of a specific account that can meet that need. Need to laugh? Type in the account of that comedian you like. Want to see your little cousin’s holiday concert? Type in her dad’s account. Resist the urge to mindlessly scroll. You’re more likely to see people you don’t know doing things you think you should be doing.
- Before the holidays, take five minutes to unfollow accounts you know you’ll be tempted to compare yourself to. You can always re-follow those accounts later.
- Write down a list of things you can do instead of scrolling. You can even move an app, like audiobooks, a game or a music app, to the spot you typically have your social media apps in. This may help remind you of different distractions.
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- Connect with others who feel the same way. If you know someone who is having a hard time this holiday season, make plans with them. Give yourselves permission to do non-holiday activities, feel however you feel, and just be there for one another.
- Journal about what is worrying you the most about the holidays and what you need to make the season better. Reach out to family and friends and share those needs with them, if you’re able. If you’re not, check out some of our other tips for ways to cope with specific holiday stressors.
- Make post-holiday plans. Make a list of things you’re looking forward to in mid-January when things are back to normal. Spend as much time as you want planning for, and getting excited about, those things.
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Need more help?
If you feel like you need more support, we’re always here to help. Call the 988 helpline anytime you need emergency emotional support. It's free, confidential, and available 24/7.
The Here2Help Hotline (410-433-5175) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) are still working — and can also be reached by calling 988.