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When the Holidays Aren’t So Jolly – Tips for Coping

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

While the holidays are supposed to be filled with joy and fun, not everyone experiences the holiday season this way. There are many reasons why the holidays might be difficult:

The memory/reality clash. If you’ve suffered a loss, are caring for an ill loved one, or have experienced other major changes in your life, your memories of how the holidays used to be may not match the way they are now.

“I didn’t get the memo.” If you are experiencing depression or other emotional problems, it may be hard to see others bustling around shopping, cooking, and planning holiday parties. It can feel like you didn’t get the memo that you were supposed to be so festive.

The energy crisis. The holidays require a lot of physical and emotional energy. If you are caregiving, working multiple jobs, or experiencing depression or loss, your energy reserves may already be depleted.

“Get with the program.” By nature, holidays represent thankfulness, joy, celebration, and positive anticipation for the future. But what if you can’t identify with those themes? It can feel like you’re expected to get with the program but you just don’t feel like it.

Coping with the holidays starts with going easy on yourself. Here are five ideas to accept:

  • I can’t escape the holidays, so I may as well plan for them.
  • It’s okay if the holidays can’t be what they once were.
  • There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays.
  • I don’t have to do this all by myself.
  • Taking care of myself must be a priority.

Once you accept those ideas, you can approach the holidays with a more relaxed attitude that focuses on your own well-being. Here are four steps to take:

Update others before your holiday visits. If you’re caring for someone who is ill, for example, and you’re nervous about how guests will react to the changes in your loved one, try sending a letter or an email gently describing how things have changed. Including suggestions for how family members can make the visit go more smoothly will put guests at ease in case they are at a loss for how to help.

Adjust your expectations (for yourself, others, and the holiday traditions). Don’t beat yourself up if you cry sometimes. Let yourself feel how you feel – holding it in won’t help. Don’t feel obligated to accept every party invitation, but do choose a few that you think you would enjoy the most. Also, don’t expect everyone to understand how you feel (but do lean on those that do).

Adapt gifts (for yourself and others). Ask for things that will nurture your emotional well-being, such as a trip to the spa or your favorite restaurant. If you are a caregiver, ask for someone to come spend time with your loved one for a few hours so you can run errands. Also, don’t feel like you have to break the bank for others. Consider giving something simple to family members and friends, such as some unique cookies from the local bakery.

Make a self-care plan. We are most likely to let our diets, exercise regimens, and sleep patterns go haywire during the holidays. All of these lifestyle practices, as well as alcohol consumption and stress management habits, have a profound effect on our emotional well-being. Write down your plan for managing your self-care during the holidays, including calendar items and contact information for friends, family, and your mental health provider, if applicable. This way, you can approach the holidays proactively while also knowing you can draw upon others when you need emotional support.


Alzheimer’s Association (2012). Holidays and Alzheimer’s families. Accessed November 6, 2012 online at

Avery, J. A. (2008). Grief and the holidays. Online course offered at Care2Learn. Accessed November 6, 2012 online at

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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