The holidays are advertised as a time of happiness, reconnection, and general good cheer, but this is not the case for everyone. High expectations may lead to disappointment, and stress circulates around trying to get everything to be just right. Others do not have a home to return to for the holidays, and this time of year can trigger intense feelings of loneliness.

Whether you plan to spend time with family, friends, or yourself this year, there are steps you can take to keep your head above water and even have a good time. Take an active approach to making the most of the holiday season, and see what a difference in can make.

  1. Channel healthy nostalgia.
    Sometimes we resist dwelling on the past, and a common modern mantra is to “stay in the present”. However, positive nostalgia can significantly improve your mood. We do not always know what will trigger good or bad memories, but you can choose to reminisce instead of waiting to be triggered. The holidays are usually rife with memories to choose from, some more positive than others, and your mind can be an important source of inspiration and whole-heartedness. Focus on the good times of the past, and perhaps you will be motivated to recreate them in new ways now.
  2. Set realistic expectations.
    As we get older, life experience tends to hinder the once pervasive childish wonder that surrounds the holidays. Trips to see family can be seen more as sources of stress than opportunities of enjoyment and connection. Holiday movies and greeting cards can set unrealistic expectations for the holidays, and you must remember that they are fiction. Instead of going into the holiday season with unreasonably high or low expectations for what this year will hold, try to understand that no family is perfect. It may not be a picturesque holiday, but that does not mean it is going to be overwhelmingly unpleasant or stressful either. Be prepared for the usual triggers of stress or emotional unrest, and set yourself up to be as calm-headed and empathic as you can.
  3. Remain curious and open-minded.
    The holidays can be notorious for getting a bunch of people with opposing ideological views in the same room and expecting the mood to remain cheery. Most people know not to discuss politics, religion, or money at family gatherings, but that does not mean it will be avoided by everyone. Make it a goal for yourself to not feed into negative or conflictive conversation. A simple way to accomplish this goal is to just listen and remain curious. Forget about your beliefs for a minute and just try to understand the perspective of the person that is talking to you. It may not be enough to change your values, but it can certainly help in avoiding unnecessary conflict.
  4. Practice healthy personal boundaries.
    Whether surrounded by family or in solitude this season, you may be swept up in negative thoughts and depressive feelings due to loneliness or feelings of insecurity. We do not always realize when such feelings are triggered, and once they take over, it can be difficult to find our way out of them. Tell yourself that it is okay to walk away, take some time outside or participate in a soothing activity, like taking a hot shower or reading a book. This does not make you antisocial, a loser, or mean that you are no fun. Establishing healthy boundaries can help ease tension, reduce the likelihood of conflict, and also increase personal well-being. Carve out time for yourself to participate in an activity that is just for you, even it is just taking some time to be nostalgic.
  5. Make small efforts to eradicate loneliness.
    Loneliness is a pervasive feeling that makes it very difficult to have a positive outlook on the holiday season. If you are lonely, you may feel overwhelmed by the people around you talking about travel plans, holiday traditions, or complaining about having to spend time with family. In this time of year that revolves around the benefits of gratitude and giving, give the gift of company to someone you know who is alone. By becoming more aware of those who may be suffering and taking small efforts to include him or her in various activities, you can make a big difference in eradicating loneliness this season.

People at risk for loneliness include the elderly, those overcoming a loss, and the recently divorced. They may not feel comfortable enough to be fully vulnerable with you and tell you that they are lonely. You can simply visit, offer an invitation, or express your gratitude for this person in your life to give the generous gift of supplying someone’s need to belong.