The holidays are often a time that’s built up to be the best time of year. And it truly can be. But if you’re currently struggling, if you’ve lost someone, you can’t be with family, or you’re just not yourself lately for your own reasons, this time of year can be anything but the best.

And that is okay! Before we dive into this article, remember that it’s okay for you to not feel okay, even during the holidays. We build up so much expectation for there to be so much joy, but if we’re not equipped to handle how we’re feeling in this moment, it can be a major let down. 

Here are a few tips to make it through the holidays if you’re feeling the holiday blues. Remember that you’re not alone in this, and that it’s always acceptable, safe, and good for you to seek professional help.

  1. Don’t run away from your feelings

Faking happiness or joy or gratitude won’t do you any good. If right now you’re going through a tough time, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re not feeling your best. Acknowledging those feelings is the first step in letting them go. Everything we bury eventually comes back up again, and even stronger the second (or third…or fourth) time. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings: sadness, grief, anger, frustration, and give yourself time to cry. By doing so, you’re allowing more space for better-feeling emotions to potentially come through.

2. Take a breath

It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement (and sometimes anxiety) of this time of year! Remember to not only take a physical breath (yes, right now, pause and breath for 5 seconds), but to also take time for yourself. We’re required to do so much this time of year for others, but it’s important to remember not to pour from an empty cup. Some activities that can recharge you:

  • Make time to read
  • Get a massage
  • Take a walk through a decorated neighborhood
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Try meditation
  • Practice gentle yoga

3. Get outside

During this time of year, it’s easy to just stay indoors for most of the winter; the cold isn’t exactly pleasant to be in for too long! But getting outside, even just for 5 minutes first thing in the morning to see the sun will do your body and your mind a world of good. Decreased time outside and in the sunlight has also been associated with a drop in serotonin levels. Making sure to get outside every day can offer a big mood boost!

4. Stick to your healthy habits

When you’re not feeling your best, it’s very beneficial to stick with healthy habits that usually keep you feeling physically and mentally well. Whether you’re following a particular diet or exercise regime, or you need to prioritize a healthy amount of sleep (we all should be prioritizing good sleep! But really aim for that Goldilocks combo of not too much and not too little. Too little sleep, and we’re easily irritable and not emotionally able to handle stressful issues, while sleeping too much is linked with depression), sticking with your healthy habits is a way to keep motivated and help your low moments not go so low. 

5. Lean on trusted family and friends

It’s very beneficial to have an ally during this time of year, especially if you’re attending family or friend gatherings. If there’s someone that you can trust, it might be a good idea to confide in them that you’re experiencing something difficult and you’re not sure how to handle it or are feeling disappointed that you can’t fully be present (which is okay, especially when you’re facing something difficult). They can be your confidant and supporter for you to lean on while you’re navigating some murky waters.

6. Be realistic and reduce expectations

It’s easy to gear this year up to be the happiest time of year and have all of these extravagant plans in place (or want to have some at least!), but it’s important to remain practical about what can be done. If you’re not in the best place right now, it’s okay for everything to not be perfect. In fact, it’s more than okay. Every year is a new one with new opportunities for different traditions. No two years are the same. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about this year being different from previous years.

7. Practice gratitude

Even in the hardest of times, gratitude can make the dark seem a little lighter. Even if you can’t express gratitude for the current situation that you’re facing (one of the biggest mindset shifts for me during difficult times was realizing that everything was happening for me, not to me…but it took some time to get there!), find gratitude for unrelated items: clean air, clean water, a warm bed, a beloved pet, the clothes you have, etc. Saying thank you for the things in your life, and really allowing yourself to feel it, can instantly shift your perspective to a much brighter one.

8. Practice generosity

Tis the season of giving, afterall! When we express generosity, like gratitude, it instantly makes us feel better. But what’s different from gratitude is that generosity also gives us a feeling that we’re adding value to someone else, and it’s empowering to feel that we’re needed. It doesn’t need to be in extravagant ways: simply helping a neighbor put up their lights if you’re able to, or helping an elder get around to do their holiday shopping or spending time volunteering at an animal shelter is such a seemingly simple, yet profound way to give back. Seeing the gratitude in someone else’s eyes for what you’ve done is truly empowering and a major mood booster.

9. Say no and stick to it

One of the biggest ways to maintain sanity during the holidays is to say no and stick by your boundaries. Much of the stress around the holidays is due to saying yes to too many things, having way too much to do, and feeling obligated to follow through. If something isn’t serving your greatest good, it is safe for you to let it go. Don’t feel the need to host the family Christmas dinner if right now, having family over is too overwhelming for you rather than enjoyable. Say no to get-togethers you don’t want to participate in and yes to the ones you do. If someone is asking too much of you, be honest and transparent about where you are right now (as transparent as you want to be- remember, you don’t have to spill anything you’re not comfortable with!).

10. Seek professional help

Never be ashamed to seek professional help when you’re struggling. Sometimes, we face challenges that we can take on all on our own, and sometimes we need help. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, accepting help is one of the best things you can do for yourself. You don’t have to struggle alone. By getting help, you can lean on your doctor or mental health professional to give you specific coping mechanisms that can ease you through this difficult period.