Whether you’ve experienced a recent loss or you’re strapped for cash or short on time or you’re sick or feeling especially lonely or sad or anxious this year, the holidays can make you feel worse than you already do. It can be hard to muster enthusiasm for the parties and celebrations and the endless obligations when all you want to do is pull a blanket over your head and sleep through the whole month of December — and maybe January and February, too, while you’re at it. But you can’t sleep through it, and while you don’t have to embrace the season if your heart’s not in it, there are a few things you can do to make it not so terrible. Keep reading for a few tips to survive the holidays when you feel like a grinch.
1. Embrace your Grinch-ness
Don’t feel like getting in the holiday spirit? Then don’t! Get into the anti-holiday spirit! Throw an anti-holiday party for your fellow Scrooges where you promise there will be nary a decoration seen or Christmas tune heard. Set Grinch-y house rules stating that anyone heard uttering anything holiday-related will have to stand outside in the cold for three minutes with only a coat and a flask of whiskey to keep warm. But be warned: the ridiculousness of it all might just make you smile despite yourself.
2. Don’t spend money you don’t have
Tell friends and loved ones not to expect store-bought gifts from you this year because you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to shop. Instead, write a hand-written letter to the people on your holiday list telling them what they mean to you. I promise it will mean more than a sweater bought on sale at Gap. If you still want to do something more, think about what you have to offer in the way of personal skills or expertise that might bring them joy or convenience. Baking, cooking, home organization, babysitting, house-sitting, yard work/ snow removal, dog-walking, car-washing, knitting, photography, and house-cleaning are just some of the gifts of time and skills you can offer people in your life if you’re short on funds. As someone who has to pay $15 an hour for a babysitter to watch my son, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am any time we get free sitting! That is definitely a meaningful gift.
3. Do something nice for a stranger(s)
Feeling jaded about the meaning of the holidays? Be the change you’d like to see! Send a card or care package to a deployed service member. Drop off some cookies at your local fire house. Buy some $5 Dunkin’ Donut gift cards and pass them out to homeless people. Write your kids’ teacher or caregiver a thank you note for the hard work he or she does. Buy a child in need a book — it may be the only gift she gets this year.
4. Just say “no”
Don’t feel like going home for the holidays? Don’t. Not up for attending all the various parties and social functions? Blow them off… or make a quick appearance and leave or just choose one to go to instead of dragging yourself to all of them. What’s the worst that will happen? People will think you’re anti-social? That you don’t love them? If they give you grief, tell them you can’t get time off from work or you don’t have the money to travel or you aren’t feeling well or you already have other plans or you’ve decided to sit the holidays out this year and you hope they understand. There will be other opportunities to show up, and once you relieve yourself of the pressure to be present for the holidays, you may just find some moments during the month that are actually enjoyable.
5. Find one outfit you’re excited to wear
Maybe you can’t get out of your social obligations, but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. One of the best ways to make a social obligation a little more fun is to look great going out. So pull out a favorite outfit you haven’t had the opportunity to wear in a long time or take advantage of all the sales and buy yourself something new that looks awesome on you. Or, if you’re broke and hate everything in your closet, do a clothing swap with a friend who’s the same size as you or ask to borrow something or spend a little time mixing and matching stuff you already own or adding a “statement” piece, like patterned tights or a big necklace, and see if you can create a new outfit pairing items you hadn’t thought to wear together.
6. Focus on one holiday-related thing or activity you like (or at least don’t hate)
Maybe it’s the holiday drinks at Starbucks or sales at your favorite store or the way your city empties out the week of Christmas when everyone goes to the suburbs to visit their families (I love that!). There must be one little thing that happens this time of year that brings you even the tiniest bit of joy (time off from work, at least?), so focus on that and make a point to enjoy it even while actively disliking everything else about the holidays.
7. Don’t try to lose weight
There are so many temptations this time of year that make losing weight a losing battle, sabotaging your self-esteem and making you even grumpier. Instead, enjoy a few select treats and try to focus on just maintaining your weight or keeping your weight gain to under three pounds, which you can lose in a weekend come the new year.
8. Connect with people you like and/or miss
Even if you can’t afford to travel to all your loved ones, you can at least make some phone calls or enjoy some Skype sessions with people who fill you up instead of depleting your energy. If possible, squeeze in some time with your local friends you don’t see nearly enough, using the holidays as an excuse to get together. Sure, no one looks forward to social obligations with people they don’t necessarily want to see, but when it’s people who lift you up, a quick brunch or snowy walk through the park or meet-up for coffee can renew your chapped spirit.
9. Schedule an extra therapy appointment
I’m serious on this one. If you know the holidays — or at least this particular holiday season — is a trigger for you — talk it out. If you’re in therapy, schedule an extra session to help you cope. If you’re in a 12-step program, attend more meetings. If you don’t have a therapist and you aren’t in any programs, consider calling a hotline that specializes in your particular form of hardship, or vent on an internet message board, or talk to a clergy person if you’re religious, or see a campus counselor if you’re in school, or talk to a trusted friend or loved one who’s proven to be a good listener. Unload your burden a little so the weight isn’t as heavy.
10. Take care of your physical self
Exercise! Get fresh air! Schedule a massage! Build a snowman or go ice skating or throw snowballs at a group of carolers, you old scrooge. Physical activity releases endorphins, which help fight the blues and makes things like dysfunctional family get-togethers and socializing with annoying co-workers a little more bearable.
11. Start new traditions
Maybe the holidays are no fun for your because you don’t enjoy any of the traditions you’ve always begrudgingly participated in. But you’re an adult now and part of the beauty of that is that you can start your own traditions. And they can be totally silly or ironic (how do you think ugly christmas sweater parties began?) or irreverent or have very little to eve do with the holidays at all except they take place every year in December. The point of traditions is to mark the passing of time with people you love and care about so as long as you’re doing that, a tradition can be anything you damn want it to be. Just think of something to do, invite a few favorite people to join you, call it the “First annual holiday (or anti-holiday) such-and-such” and Boom! you’ve got a new tradition — one you can actually look forward to.
12. And whatever you do: avoid the mall!