Are you struggling to get in the holiday spirit? You’re not alone. The holidays are often considered the best time of the year as catchy tunes play on the radio, lights twinkle in windows, and decorations dance in yards. It’s a time of giving back to others and refilling your cup with joy and hope. So, what do you do if you feel stressed and lonely? These are 20 action steps you can take today to refill your empty cup so you too can find joy during this difficult time.
Lifting your mood during difficult times
First, know that it’s ok not to be ok.
Don’t let society tell you how to feel. The commercials and music may be upbeat, but it’s alright if you’re melancholy or in a somber mood.
Do not suffer in silence. Find an empathetic voice and most of all someone who will listen.
Allow yourself to feel the way you do. You’re not alone.
Holiday stress and sadness are common.
There are many causes of during the holidays, including:
- Financial worries.
- Family concerns.
- Lack of acceptance of that which you cannot control.
- Health worries.
This year, we can add a whole set of new stressors:
- Loss of normal.
- Loneliness and social isolation.
- Pandemic fatigue.
Balancing remote work and learning and canceled activities and limited social interactions take a toll on mental health. And both Zoom and pandemic fatigue are real.
Hundreds of thousands of people lost loved ones to COVID-19, many dying alone and without proper goodbyes. Countless others lost jobs and closed their businesses. Their success vanished, and there was nothing they could do to control that outcome.
This is a holiday season like we’ve never experienced before. More people are suffering. More people need help than ever before with mental health, food, and housing.
Additionally, the onset of shorter days with more time that is dark outside triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for up to 3% of the general population, up to 10% in those with underlying preexisting depression, and up to 25% of those with bipolar disorder.
This condition is more common in women, and symptoms frequently include a loss of energy, decreased interest and/or enjoyment in activities, and a depressed mood.
The first step in addressing your feelings may be the hardest.
- First, recognize how you feel.
- Second, accept and honor your feelings.
- Third, know you are not alone in what you are experiencing..
- Fourth, try mood-boosting management strategies.
Feeling down? Try these tips
With virtual holiday parties, it may be easier to accept that you’re stressed and struggling. You don’t have to explain yourself or put on a “public” face at a holiday party.
However, without in-person social interaction, it’s harder for some to get a boost and find comfort friends and co-workers can offer.
The new year enthusiasm that many people typically feel may not be there this year. Instead of a reset, it’s going to be different than in the past.
No matter how you’re feeling, know that there is hope.
Choose a few ideas below.
Stress management ideas
1. Name your feelings and stress triggers.
2. Let go of things you can’t control.
3. Create a worry jar so you don’t stress about stress.
4. Be realistic. Don’t try to add more to your plate than you can handle right now.
5. Set reasonable expectations, so you don’t feel pressured.
6. Embrace uncertainty.
7. Expect the unexpected.
8. Maintain perspective.
Focus on being
9. Be yourself
10. Focus on the positive.
11. Practice gratitude.
12. Give to others.
Find time for self-care
13. Embrace self-care.
14. Celebrate you.
15. Create new traditions.
16. Indulge in moderation.
17. Get outside and move your body.
19. Do nothing.
20. Focus on the present.
Which strategies do you think you can find success with most quickly? Try only those ideas.
It’s important to start somewhere before emotions you find difficult snowball and become overwhelming.
Having a mental health toolkit you can tap into whenever you need it will make you stronger and more resilient. You may need it now, this winter, or even when life returns to some sense of “normal.”
Emotions come and go, so building a toolkit of go-to mental health strategies can help you cope any time of year.
1. Name your feelings and triggers
First, start by naming your feelings and triggers. Let them all bubble to the surface. Identifying how you feel and understanding why you feel that way can help you navigate this so-called wonderful time and start the process of moving alongside and eventually past those emotions.
If it’s helpful, write down those feelings and triggers as a way to further acknowledge and accept them without judgment.
2. Let go of what’s out of your control
Sometimes, you just have to let it go!
Stress and anxiety can contribute to a low mood. Release your worries by writing them down on a piece of paper. Put them in a jar with a lid. Then, place the jar on a shelf.
It’s the first step in calming your mind of anxiety and overwhelm.
Think of those worries like a balloon. It’s a freeing experience when you let the air out of a balloon, or take away the power of those worries by putting them in a jar.
Think about what’s holding you back. Is it anger? The fear of not being good enough? Something that happened in your past?
Bottle up those emotions in a jar rather than deep inside your soul. Say yes to the life you have rather than the life you wish you had or once had. You’ll gain freedom by letting go.
3. Don’t stress about stress
It’s a natural reaction to be stressed about stress. Our bodies are pre-wired for this reaction.
You have to train your brain to recognize and acknowledge stress triggers and avoid judgment of it.
That’s why the worry jar works so well. It’s a visual way to remind yourself to keep the worries you can do nothing about closed up in the jar.
When you start feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself this question. Are you going to worry or keep that concern bottled up on the shelf so you can focus your mind on things you can control?
That simple exercise can help you avoid stressing about stress!
Want stress-busting inspiration year-round? Get the Be Less Stressed Toolkit.
Plus, small steps you can take to change your life each month.
4. Be realistic
The holidays don’t have to be perfect. Many of us have this idealistic vision of the holiday season, starting with the picture-perfect photo for the holiday card.
Give yourself grace. Don’t try to do a hundred things, or you’ll overwhelm yourself. The holidays don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to go to every Zoom party.
Set realistic expectations you can achieve. If putting up holiday decorations is too stressful or brings back painful memories of someone you lost, give yourself grace, and skip a year or two. The decorations will be there when you’re ready.
5. Set your expectations, so you don’t feel pressured
Be realistic about gift-giving, too. Give what you can afford. It’s often not the price of a gift that matters most, but the sentiment behind it.
If a family member is over the top with gift-giving, some find it difficult to avoid the added pressure to keep up. Prepare for those feelings during the Zoom call.
Gift-giving is not a competition. Do what’s best for your circumstances even if it’s different than normal. Remember, nothing is normal this year.
In a Credit Karma survey, 59 percent of Americans said they’re changing gift-giving traditions. Why? More people are feeling financial stress.
That’s ok. You’re not going to feel happier if you give someone a gift that’s outside your financial comfort zone. You’re going to worry about the credit card bill long after that fleeting moment of brief happiness when the person opens the gift.
And when all is said and done many people discover the greatest joy does not come from gifts but being grateful for their blessings.
6. Embrace uncertainty
A year packed full of uncertainty is a constant reminder we don’t know what the future holds, which may trigger fear and a depressed mood if this year has been a struggle. But, remind yourself that life is always uncertain.
We tend to take uncertainty for granted in so-called “normal” years. But, it’s always uncertain if you’ll wake up the next day feeling healthy or ill.
7. Expect the unexpected
When you prepare for unexpected things, you’ll be better able to go with the flow when things do not go as planned.
Kids have meltdowns, family get-togethers can bring up raw emotions from the past, grief can surface at random moments, and holiday work parties may not be as fun as you’d like.
Your family isn’t perfect, and neither are you. It’s ok if your cookies burn. Your day will go on.
There’s always tomorrow.
When you’re emotionally prepared for the unexpected, it’s easier to handle the present situation.
8. Maintain perspective
Frustrated with the “new normal?” Suffering from pandemic fatigue?
You’re not alone.
It’s sad to look back at family photos and think about the holiday traditions you’ll skip this year. Forty-seven percent of people in the Credit Karma survey worried about COVID-19 changing their holiday celebrations.
Acknowledge those feelings. It can be sad that traditions and celebrations have to change to keep everyone safe. And the current situation provides the opportunity to get creative and establish new traditions.
But, keep things in perspective. Is it better to keep with tradition or risk your family’s health or even result in someone’s death?
Your actions affect your health and that of people you don’t even know.
9. Be yourself
Don’t worry about what others think. Ultimately, being true to yourself is key to your health and well-being. Happiness comes from within.
It’s difficult when your family doesn’t embrace who you are. For example, members of the LGBTQ community support each other, but they don’t always have family support.
Although, it may be much easier said than done, be yourself and if acceptance follows from family members and friends, consider that a bonus.
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”~ Oscar Wilde
Family dynamics are complicated enough as it is. The global pandemic has sometimes made them worse when individuals have different beliefs about what’s safe and the steps necessary to reduce the risk of infection and spread.
Don’t feel pressure to get together if you’re not comfortable.
10. Focus on the positive
Even if you’re feeling down, there’s likely at least a small glimmer of positivity somewhere in your life. The challenge is finding those “hidden blessings.” .
Focus on the warm family memories, rather than the hurtful comments. Are there more good memories than bad?
Challenge yourself to find the good ones. It’s easier to hold onto the bad memories than the good ones. Challenge yourself to dig deep and find the ones that make you smile or shed happy tears.
Focus on the positive. At first, it may be finding positive moments one week at a time. Work your way up to see at least one positive moment each day.
That’s the first step on the path to happiness.
11. Practice gratitude
Feeling gratitude during difficult times may seem impossible. But, you CAN do it. Here are 20 ways to practice gratitude.
Identifying things for which you are thankful can help no matter how you’re feeling or how deep the grief is that you’re experiencing.
If there was ever a time where gratitude mattered, it’s now. Life moves quickly, and the accelerations spurred by technology show no sign of reversing or slowing down. Therefore, the value of recognizing early the importance of not taking your life for granted cannot be overstated. Especially in a year when many people are mourning the loss of loved ones.
Taking conscious action increases the likelihood of building meaningful relationships and making wonderful memories. It also helps safeguard against the temptation to spend time accumulating more and more material things as well as being vulnerable to the sorrow of discovering yourself left with a collection of avoidable regrets.
“We take life for granted, sleepwalking until a shattering event knocks us awake. Zen says, don’t wait until the car accident, the cancer diagnosis, or the death of a loved one to get your priorities straight. Do it now.”~ Philip Toshio Sudo
You can start by writing down everything you’re grateful for once a week in a gratitude journal. Take time to focus on the “little” moments that give you a sense of contentment and the people who bring you joy. Be grateful for those treasures. Then honor them by investing focus and effort in weaving them into your life on a regular basis.
Like a photograph, when you capture these memories with words in a journal, you’re recognizing and honoring the blessings while also creating an amazing memory book that you can hold onto forever.
12. Give to others
Giving is often better than receiving. If you have the means to give to others, do it.
Finding kindness in your heart may not be easy if you feel the world hasn’t been kind to you. Push yourself to go the extra step, though. You’ll likely be surprised how much that means to someone else and how much it can help you too.
Kindness is contagious. With COVID-19 everywhere, kindness is one thing you actually want to spread.
13. Embrace self-care
When was the last time you focused only on yourself?
It’s not selfish. It’s self-care, and it’s essential.
Slow down for a few days. Take time to wind down, focus on the present, take a breath, de-stress, and get grounded.
Get outside and walk, listen to music, or watch a funny show that will take your mind off the daily stressors and make you laugh.
14. Celebrate you
Go ahead—Pat yourself on the back. You’ve accomplished a lot this year!
We’ve never had a year quite like 2020. It’s been packed full of unexpected challenges. You’ve adapted, re-adapted, and adjusted again.
It’s been one curveball after another. Last year at this time, none of the events of 2020 were probably on your vision board.
Give yourself credit. Celebrate who you are today – a stronger, more resilient person than you were in 2019.
15. Create new traditions
Out with the old. In with the new.
It’s time to make new traditions.
What will put a smile on someone’s face this year and allow you to focus on each other rather than material items?
Remember, memories last a lifetime.
16. Indulge in moderation
When you’re stressed, do you eat healthy or grab junk food? For most, it’s the latter.
You may eat mindlessly, paying less attention to what you’re eating or how much of it. Some people eat because they think it’s going to make them feel better, especially if it is a comfort food. Although it may feel good in the moment, it’s a fleeting sensation. And if you make it a habit, you’ll end up putting on pounds and potentially creating more stress.
During the holidays, there are temptations everywhere. Delicious plates full of cookies. Alcoholic drinks. Chocolate. Yum!
It’s ok to indulge every once in awhile, but do it in moderation.
Healthy eating makes you feel better.
17. Get outside and exercise
Exercise is a great way to recharge. Lack of exercise can even lead to more stress.
When you get your heart pumping, it clears your mind of worry and also reduces the release of stress hormones helping you feel better.
Even though it may be cold outside, fresh air invigorates your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Listen to music to help clear your mind of worry.
Winter brings a sense of stillness to our lives that no other season offers. Ever walk outside when it’s snowing? Calm and quiet surround you.
Embrace this time of year, even though it gets dark earlier and it’s harder to get outside.
Sit by the crackling fire. It’ll warm you and your soul. There’s something beautiful in every season.
Take a moment and breathe. In and out slolwly. Over and over.
When you take just a minute a day to focus on your breathing, it’s incredible to experience the difference in how you feel.
These calming mind-body exercises help you focus on your breath and body so you can lower stress. They’re low-impact and low cardio exercises.
19. Do nothing
Take time to do nothing. It’s been a long year. You deserve some “free” time.
Detach from technology, the hustle and bustle, and worries of yesterday. Do nothing.
It’s the hardest thing to do, yet provides the fuel you need to refill your cup.
Don’t fill it with an endless To-Do list. Instead, do nothing.
20. Focus on the present
Focus on the present with mindfulness.
Put the past into perspective because you can’t change what happened.
Focus on where you are today, how you feel, and how you can improve your life and that of others.
Find the joy in today even if it’s not exactly how you envisioned the holiday season.
“If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
~ Masaru Emoto
(Personal Insight MD, LLC, PeopleTweaker, and Insight MD does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are feeling extreme anger with thoughts and actions harmful to yourself or others such as physical/verbal abuse or acts of violence, find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, illicit drugs, etc., expressing your anger in such a way that threaten relationships or your job, etc. seek professional help immediately and call 911 if necessary if you find yourself in an out-of-control situation or have the urge to hurt yourself or others.)