Wright Foundation | December 10, 2019

How to Avoid the Holiday Blues This Season

The holidays bring time with friends and family. This is often a time of celebration and reflection. But sometimes, the holiday blues set in and cause us to miss out on the joy.

Hoping to avoid the holiday blues? If you’ve had a challenging year, here's how to work through the events of the last few months and embrace the holiday season.

When you take a look beneath the surface (no matter what faith and season you celebrate), this time of year probably evokes both hope and unspoken elements of pain and withheld feelings. Some of us cope with shopping, avoiding, maybe even occasionally overeating, sports binging, or other soft addictions. Unfortunately, these strategies don’t really do much for us if we’re avoiding the holiday blues. In fact, they may leave us feeling emptier and more stressed out than before.

Don’t fret. There are ways to have even more fun and move to new visions of the holiday. Rather than avoiding the holiday blues by hiding or running from them, what if you explore your feelings and find new ways to form magic memories this holiday season?

Take Off the Pressure and Take in the Pleasure to Avoid the Blues This Holiday Season

Are the holidays stressing you out? You’re definitely not alone. The American Psychological Association discovered 69% of people are stressed out during the holidays. What’s worrying them?

When you combine these stressors with the feelings stirred up during family get-togethers, as well as end-of-year reflections, it’s no wonder people often report feeling down or blue during the holiday season. In fact, with all the pressure, you may begin to question why we repeat these rituals every year!

Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Christmas, Solstice, New Year’s, or simply celebrate the season, the holidays are often fraught with unconscious stress and frustrating dynamics.

First, there are the parties with your family members (Uncle Roger’s bringing up politics AGAIN), and your in-laws (with your mother-in-law’s thinly veiled critiques of your parenting style). There are varying traditions around the office and different expectations among friends when it comes to gifts and giving. Plus, there are so many events on the calendar, you may wonder when you’ll find time to wrap presents and prepare meals, let alone, drink a peppermint latte.

Compound this with feelings we get when we’ve experienced challenges over the past 12 months. If you’ve had a loss, a setback, or a breakup, this time of year might amplify those feelings. As you look ahead to the new year, you may feel regrets or wonder how the year passed by so quickly.

The holiday blues are a totally normal phenomenon. In fact, avoiding the holiday blues isn’t always the most strategic approach. Often, when we avoid our feelings rather than address them head-on, they snowball, making us feel even worse. We throwback another glass of wine, get out the credit card to shop Amazon, or spend time binging on Hallmark movies, hoping we’ll forget all the feelings we’re experiencing. We end up feeling overwhelmed and worse.

It’s important to remember—your feelings are valid and important. Even if you feel down or if you’re worried, your feelings aren’t in line with those around you; your feelings are still meant to be embraced. If you feel like crying, go ahead! If you feel like yelling, it’s totally okay!

Why the Holidays Get So Stressful

So why does our holiday break sometimes feel like more stress and pressure than our days at the office?

The truth is, this holiday hell we’re putting ourselves through isn’t a necessity. Most people tend to set holiday habits we fall into year after year. We may think we need to do certain activities out of a sense of tradition, obligation, or even fear, but stressing out isn’t part of the season or something we need to go through. It’s often a result of poor planning or no planning at all.

Our holiday feelings of failure often start with failing to plan what we really want out of the holidays. We may plan our logistics—what will we eat, what presents will we buy, what activities are we scheduling—but rarely do we plan how we want to feel or what we want to get out of the holiday. So, how do you take your holiday spirit from worry to wonder? It starts with setting up a vision for what you want.

So many people never take the time to set up a plan or vision for what they want. Then they’re stunned to discover themselves in a whirlwind of unsatisfying activity and drama. The best gift to give yourself is actually an enjoyable experience. Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, conducted a 20-year study and concluded that happiness from purchases fades quickly, whereas positive experiences become an integral part of our identity.

It’s important to set up for success with an idea of what you want. What is your intention for this holiday season?

Many people end up doing what they always do; they get stuck in a rut or routine. Unfortunately, when this happens, our holiday ends up feeling like another burdensome “to-do list” rather than a joyous experience or an opportunity to connect with the spirit of the season. We become so wrapped up and focused on pleasing family and friends, that we end up doing what others want, rather than what we really want.

What would help the holidays feel meaningful and nourishing for you? What are those moments when you really feel joy, connection, and happiness during the holiday season? Is it when you hear music? Look at the lights? Decorate your house? Is it spending time with family and friends?

Anything you haven’t dealt with, be it within yourself or your relationships, often comes into focus or gets amplified at this time of year. It’s so important to go into situations with a strategy for how you’re going to be with people, rather than assuming everything will go well, playing it by ear, or toughing it out through the tension.

Take the Pressure Off

We put too much pressure on one holiday or event or time of the year.  We build and build up our expectations, imagining the perfect Christmas morning, a flawless Chanukah dinner, or toasting a New Year’s party for the ages.

This same concept plays out at Valentine’s day, or on our wedding day, graduation, or other significant events in our lives. We start believing a specific day must be completely “magical.” We imagine that to be perfect, there must be no pressure, no stress, and nothing going wrong.

But when we step back for a moment, we might ask, why would we—in any rational way—expect one day of the year of our lives to become so utterly different from any other day in terms of stress, challenges, or bumps in the road? Things might always go a little off track, and that’s life. Perfection is an unrealistic concept.

When we pressure ourselves to keep a happy face, no matter what’s going on around us, it’s not real. It’s never satisfying, especially when there are so many other options.

The holidays are particularly high-pressure because we may try to make up for what we don’t get the rest of the year. Maybe you feel your spouse doesn’t appreciate you, so without realizing it, you’re expecting a big gift to make up for those feelings. These unconscious expectations—especially in terms of gifts and money—get in the way of us enjoying the opportunities for magic.

Maybe you grew up in a family where they exchanged lavish gifts on holidays. Those gifts become your expectation, so when others don’t do that for you, you feel disappointed. On the flip side, maybe gift-giving isn’t an essential tradition for you. When your spouse is disappointed or angry you didn’t do more, you’re left feeling hurt and regretful. Or perhaps you love giving big gifts, but this year it’s not an option for you financially. If holidays are all about the gifts, then without a plan, it feels like someone sucked the delight right out of the special day.

Plan for a More Satisfying Holiday

The good news is, a happy holiday is within your grasp! With planning and a shifting outlook, you can create a holiday that’s more satisfying and fulfilling.

It all starts with your vision. Create a vision of how you want YOUR holiday to be. Imagine the details. Take a few moments to think about how you want to be and how you want to feel. What is your vision and purpose for this holiday? A good vision will take you from worry to wonder and from pressure to pleasure. Rather than planning logistics, plan on what you really want.

Having a tough time figuring out what your holiday vision looks like? It may require reframing what you REALLY want. For example, do your decorations need to be perfect or are you hoping to invoke delight in others when they experience what you created? How will you contribute to the enjoyment of others around you, rather than putting the pressure on a perfectly placed Santa?

Do you always go to your in-laws but dread it all season long? Have you been unwilling to embark on the conversation? Remember, you aren’t a victim of your life. Set aside your feelings of martyrdom and have those tough conversations about what matters to you.

If you find yourself stressed out by a jam-packed schedule, rushing between events, ask yourself, what is your vision for the quality of contact you create with others? Sometimes a meaningful touch, a concern expressed, or confidence shared, has a massive impact on the fulfillment you experience at a holiday party.

If you feel stuck in a rut or routine in your holiday, consider starting a new tradition. There are so many delightful possibilities! You can start a new tradition by choosing it! It’s in your power!

The point is to plan—not what you are doing, but HOW you want to feel and what you want to create. Once you get a little clarity, include the significant people in your life, so they can share their vision with you and get on board as well.

This year, plan to savor the entire holiday season, not a date, or a single event. Remember, no magic lies in any calendar date. The beauty of the holidays is often in the heart-opening opportunities that occur. When people remember to be a little lovelier, a little more generous, and a little more giving of themselves, none of these characteristics have a date attached. You may stand in a long, stressed-out line of people making gift returns after the holidays. You can choose to be frustrated, or decide to be open, to share, and connect.

The only thing that makes one day different from the others is your mindset. Plan a lot of lovely sweet, savoring moments for the entire winter season. This takes unnecessary pressure off the actual holiday dates themselves. Choose to have a wonderful holiday this year!

For more ways to live a life of fulfillment, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for our upcoming More Life Training. You’ll connect with others on their transformational journey and learn more about yourself. This is a great way to bring peace, meaning, and happiness to your life in the upcoming year ahead!

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.