An eastern bluebird’s rusty orange chest and last remaining leaves are bright pops of color in an early snowstorm.
The winter holidays are almost upon us, but it’s not a time that everyone looks forward to, especially if you’re struggling. If you‘re aware of your feelings, however, you might be able to take some action to help lessen their effect.

We’ve listed a few ideas for you, and possible ways of dealing with them below. Hopefully you’ll find something that is valuable for you, and also, make you realise you have more choice than you thought…

“You are not feeling the holiday spirit.”
The pressure ‘to be in a good mood’ seems to increase at this time, and if you don’t reciprocate you can feel left out. Or you fake it, and then feel even worse afterwards.

Here’s what might help you.
First of all know that you’re not alone. You don’t need to force yourself into ‘happiness’, and it’s a good thing to acknowledge your feelings. Also be aware that alcohol or other substances may help you avoid your emotions for a while, but they only add to your anxiety in the long run – so try and make your decisions accordingly. Hanging out with people who feel the same, could also help. And finally, if you can explore what’s triggering your reaction, that might help you deal with it when the time comes. It’s different for everyone, though exploring some of these options will hopefully be of use….

“You are overwhelmed with grief.”
Living with loss and trauma is never easy, and as the holidays approach it can be all too easy to compare yourself with others – who are not living with grief. It’s important to remain mindful of how you feel, but also have realistic expectations of how the holidays are going to play out.

Here’s what might support you.
If it doesn’t feel genuine or authentic, then don’t feel as if you have to ‘celebrate’. Perhaps try checking in with a good friend, or someone who knows your situation. A therapist, or even a support group if you have one.
People close to you may want to offer support at this time, but don’t know how to go about it. What might be useful is reaching out, and letting them know how to help you at this time. Whether it’s going for a walk now and again, a shopping trip, the cinema, whatever it may be.

“You are feeling pressured to go along to things and you don’t really want to.”
Totally understandable, and you shouldn’t be pressured into anything if you don’t want to, however sometimes people just don’t know your situation, and sometimes people just forget.

Here’s what might be valuable.
As simple as it sounds, saying ‘No’ can be quite difficult sometimes. However if you can bring yourself to try it, once or twice, you might find it gets easier over time. And you’ll probably discover that people don’t really mind anyway. Everyone has enough on their plate already.

It also could be useful, to consider spending your time in a completely different way. One that suits you perfectly. Going for a long hike, making your favourite food or watching an old movie, whatever makes you happy. This can be a refreshing change from what else is going on just now, and may help you handle the holidays.

Another suggestion, is to arrange get-togethers for after the season. That way you’re free of the ‘obligations’ and expectations, and you can just connect with other human beings instead. Whatever you decide to do, let your friends and family know in advance and they’ll do what they can to support you. Otherwise they’ll wonder what on earth is going on, and start worrying!
And finally, throughout all of this try to be patient and kind with yourself, and with other people. You never know what’s going on with other people, and they may be having a tough time too.

“Your are stressed out about buying gifts!”
It’s easy to get caught up in all this, especially with the amount of money advertisers spend to make you buy buy buy! Whether you’re worrying about budget, or just finding the ‘right gift’, remember the anxiety is more than likely being caused by you. No one else.

Here’s what might be useful.
If you feel it’s appropriate, you can let people know you’re not going to be giving gifts this year, and leave it at that. Or if you are going to go down the purchasing route, put some price guidelines around it and stick to them. What do you think?
You could also consider having a Secret Santa with a set cost involved, that way it reduces the number of gifts you have to buy overall too. You could also make a donation to charity on someone’s behalf, and send them the details.

A gift could also be, of course, something homemade or personal to you and the individual concerned. You can also help someone out. A gift that’s always well received. It’s not always about spending money, and you know that deep down.

Remember that generosity when it comes from a genuine place, is also a gift to yourself, and hopefully may lead to less anxiety as your focus is external, not so much internal. All little things than can help you avoid the stresses of the season, but they can add up and really help you handle the holidays much better.

“There’s a lot less sunshine and it’s getting you down.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is your body’s way of reacting to a lack of natural light, and affects 6.4% of the European population. Even if you don’t have SAD, but simply feel as if you’re a bit more down than usual, there are many ways to address it.

Here’s what might be helpful
Working near a window during the day, and try to exercise outside when it’s light – ideally when you can capture the most amount of sun. This may help lift your mood, and also improve your sleep. Also consider brightening up your home with warm lights, which can also do the trick. It’s different for everyone, of course, however exposure to sunlight has been proven to be affective in helping with SAD. So it’s worth a shot!
If you really do feel like hibernating over winter, however, then perhaps determine the time accordingly, and decide to work on some quieter, indoor projects such as writing, reading or even just catching up on Netflix! 🙂

“You are alone and feel isolated.”
If you are feeling down, connecting with other people can be difficult, even though you know it will do you good!

Here’s what might support you.
If you really can’t bring yourself to a face-to face situation, consider sending out holiday cards to connect to people. A card in the post always puts a smile on your face, so you’ll be sending gratitude and happiness in the post – that’s sure to cheer you up!
Or, try to connect in other ways like phone calls, even text, email and social media, although if social media makes you feel down, just leave it for a while. You can even schedule regular calls, or video chats, and that way you don’t have to think about it, just dial in when the time comes.

If you’re trying to talk yourself into meeting people, try and remember what, and who makes you happy, and then combine them in a ‘non-festive’ outing. Kayak trip with your favourite cousin? Hiking with your father..?
Meditative practices generally help to centre and calm, so consider meditation, but also just reading, or going for a walk in nature can help too. What calms you down normally? Try and put more of that in the diary for the next few weeks or so.

Finally, don’t forget to practice self-care. Sleep, exercise and a balanced diet always put us in the best place, physically and emotionally, to deal with any difficulties that come our way. So don’t be distracted from your routine with all the extra activities and influences at this time of year.

It is different for everyone, of course, but we’ve tried to suggest a range of ways and tools of dealing with the upcoming holiday season. Hopefully a few of them will hit the mark, and help you out.

If you stay mindful and find moments to practice self-care, and you feel anxious or depressed for over two weeks, then you may explore speaking to a friend, a neighbour or perhaps to a doctor, or a mental health professional to support you.

Warmest wishes,
Esther van der Sande