5 Ways to Stay Upbeat this Holiday Season

December 1, 2021

The holidays have officially arrived. And for many, that means a mix of emotions – from anticipation and excitement to stress, grief and loss. Canceled activities, increased isolation and perhaps even the death of a loved one can make this year’s season not so jolly. How do you stay upbeat?

“With the continuing pandemic, our society is under an incredible amount of stress right now. Add on the holiday season and it can be double trouble,” explains Diane Thompson, MD, a psychiatrist with Centura Behavioral Health. “The key is to recognize our fatigue and disappointment and realize it’s OK to not be happy all the time.”

To stay more positive this holiday, Dr. Thompson recommends these steps:

1. Set priorities

We all strive for that Hallmark holiday – from wrapping, baking and decorating to choosing the perfect gifts. But it is impossible to do it all. And when we try, it can rob us of joy. This year, try to set one main priority for the holiday.

“Talk to your family and decide together what is most important this holiday season. It might be spending time with loved ones, engaging in religious practices or finding some well-needed downtime,” advises Dr. Thompson. “Once you decide on your priority, let it guide your decisions.”

If spending time as a family is your focus, skip the shopping and plan a special outing together instead. If you need more downtime, reduce your holiday travel. Visit relatives for a day or two instead of the entire week.

2. Ask for help

Life around the holidays can be busy; simplifying your workload can give you more time to enjoy them. To make things easier, ask for help. Engage your kids in wrapping gifts. Ask family members to bring a dish to share. Focus less on trying to please everyone and focus more on keeping it simple.

“We are often our own worst critics,” says Dr. Thompson. “Recognize that the holidays don’t have to be perfect. It can be such a positive experience to accept help and let some things go.”

3. Draw boundaries

The holidays are known for excess – whether it be stress, expenses or obligations; these can bog us down. Think about your biggest triggers of holiday unhappiness and find ways to draw boundaries.

If you are overscheduled, pick a few events you really want to attend and excuse yourself from the rest. If you overspend on gifts, set a dollar limit for each person or minimize the number of gifts by pulling names for the family gathering and buying one special gift for the person assigned to you.

4. Create new traditions

Perhaps a family member is no longer with you. Or maybe limited finances or empty shelves make that “wow” gift less attainable. Instead of focusing on how the holidays are different this year, create new traditions. Volunteer to serve at a charitable organization if you are alone for the holiday. Or host a Zoom reunion with family members who are unable to travel.

“Talk to your family about traditions and plans. Get creative and don’t be afraid to try something new,” suggests Dr. Thompson. “The key is good communication.”

5. Practice self-compassion

Feel your best by focusing on your health and happiness this holiday. Try to:

  • Spend a little time outside each day
  • Move more by stretching, taking a walk or attending an exercise class
  • Indulge in a relaxing activity like reading, taking a bath or having coffee with a friend
  • Surround yourself with people you enjoy
  • Practice mindfulness by jotting down something you are grateful for each day or set aside time for meditation or prayer

“Holiday blues happen. If you aren’t merry 24/7 it’s important to know you aren’t alone,” says Dr. Thompson. “But if you feel hopeless for more than a few days, reach out to a mental health professional. There is help.”