When the Holidays are Hard: 10 Strategies From Someone Who Gets It

From someone who has been there ā€” I send you my heart, and ten ways to care for your own

By Kelly Fitzpatrick, publisher of Macaroni KID Macaroni KID Armonk - Chappaqua - Mount Kisco - Pleasantville, N.Y. December 1, 2022

It may be the merriest time of year for some, but for countless others, the holidays can be a time of great sadness and stress. There’s music playing, crowds bustling, events everywhere, and the sometimes overwhelming pressure for cheer. 

I hope you don’t need this article. I hope this article is not for you. I hope your life is so filled with blessings and abundance that you can’t imagine feeling anything but joyous this time of year. 

But somehow, I have a little feeling that perhaps 2022 was not your year. And that may even be a huge understatement for how difficult it was. There’s a wide variety of reasons that this may be the case, from loss to longing, to mental health stressors and financial hardships. Do you need some help getting through the season of lights and sleigh bells? I’ve been there and, in addition to my solidarity and the virtual hug that I send you, here are some words I can offer.

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1. Be gentle with yourself

If you struggle with being gentle with yourself, try to give yourself the advice you would give a friend or loved one. Work on treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you offer to others. 

Do you need to take a mental health day off from work? Are you home with your kiddos and need a day in bed? Give yourself the grace to put on the TV and have cereal for dinner.

2. Say no

Oof, this one is powerful. I cringe even as I write it. Many of us have learned to be pleasers, go along, and get along.  If you're like me, you're a person who says “yes!” whenever you can. You’ll do it again, I promise you. But for now, let someone else step up now whether it’s to bake the class cookies, host the family, or show up at the party. They will, and if they don’t — it will be okay too. 

It’s really okay to only do the things you actually have the capacity to do. No one would want you to twist yourself into a pretzel just for the sake of keeping up appearances. 

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3. Do something unexpected

The year we lost my brother, we had margaritas and fajitas for Thanksgiving dinner. We went to Bermuda for a rainy Christmas with no promise of snow. It may not have taken the pain away, but it did take us away from our usual traditions during a time when it was too acutely painful to notice who was not at the table with us. You don’t have to get on a plane to escape, but you can change up the company you keep and the location of the celebrations if it helps you.

4. Try new traditions

If your heart or your wallet can’t continue with an old way of doing something, it’s a great time to reinvent your family traditions. Gifts of doing, or experience gifts, can help your family both financially and when the mental load is too heavy. 

For example, I love to go for walks, and I most love doing them with my family. They are good for me physically, mentally, and even spiritually. Without being asked, this is what my family gave me for my birthday.

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5. Remember that this too shall pass

The hour, the day, the season — it will pass. You will not always feel the way you do at this moment. Things may not always be as unbearable, as overwhelming, or as difficult as they are now. Breathe through the hard parts. The scenery, the mood, and the time will pass.

6. Move a muscle, and change a mood

If taking the more passive path of acceptance and deep breathing is not for you right now, make the moment pass by getting up and getting moving. As I said, I always default to walking — it’s my way to cope with anxiety and sadness, but it’s also the way I find peace and happiness. Do what works for you, whether it’s something physical such as running or lifting weights, something spiritual such as meditating or going to a service, or something comforting like a movie or a meal — when you feel stuck in a moment, get up and get out of it. 

Make the change happen yourself.

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7. Try transparency

So often we want to hide our less-than-pleasant feelings from others. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised that I have made quick connections with others who feel the same way by speaking my truth. Something as simple as, “I’m not feeling the holiday spirit this year,” or “This year has been very difficult for our family” can break down barriers. You’ll find that more people understand than you may think. 

And if they don’t? At least you will have been true to yourself without minimizing or denying your reality this season.

8. Release the feelings

Yell. Or cry. Or laugh. Be ridiculous and inappropriate and lose your composure if you feel the need to. We spend so much time trying to match the emotions of others or masking how we are truly feeling — whether it’s “chin up,” “putting on a brave face,” or “walking it off” — it’s exhausting. Expressing your feelings is critical to processing them. 

We have a range of emotions for a reason, and we have outlets for them too. Let the tears come if they will. Let the laughter bubble if it’s there.

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9. Do something for someone else

I’m not talking about running for a cup of milk when your toddler beckons you to or cleaning your tween daughter’s bedroom —  I mean write a letter to someone who is on your mind, shop for a toy for the toy drive, make extra food for dinner and bring it to a friend. The times when I have felt the crummiest are the times when I have found that reaching out to others to share some kindness has helped the most. It's never failed to pick me up. 

The act of taking a mental inventory of people and actions I was grateful for, the mental distraction and hands-on nature of putting thanks into words, and the unexpected lift it gave others made a difference in my mood.

10. Find others who feel the same way

Whether friends or family, or someone you used to know who you’ve recently seen is going through something similar, or a blogger or social media presence — reach out. I read a blog written by a woman whose siblings I went to school with, and it has helped me profoundly. 

I also follow people on Instagram who have struggled with anxiety, lost loved ones, and experienced infertility and pregnancy loss. Find your people and go to them when you need to, whether you actually know them, or their reel makes you feel seen.

However you choose to acknowledge the holidays, I wish you gentle days now, and better days ahead.