‘Tis the season for…comparing our holidays to everyone else’s!
Some people are blessed with stress-free, Hallmark-movie-worthy holiday seasons. Most people, though, aren’t so lucky. This time of the year seems to be filled with stress and unrealistic expectations of how happy everyone should be, which lends itself to comparing and despairing throughout the winter.
Turns out, those who don’t have the best luck when it comes to the holidays are actual in the majority. A recent survey concluded that 88% of Americans feel stress surrounding the holidays, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of mental illness sufferers say the holidays make their conditions worse.
Most wonderful time of the year? Ehhh, maybe not.
Here are 6 ways to limit the amounts of comparing, and inevitable despairing, you do throughout the remainder of the holiday season.
1. Stay off social media
For those who spend lots of time on social media, this is the tip that can make the biggest impact. Facebook, Instagram, and the like can easily become rabbit holes of negative comparison. Social media allows you to get an inside glimpse into peoples’ holiday seasons — what their families are like, what kind of Christmas or Hanukkah gifts they’re getting, and how much fun they’re having celebrating their family traditions. Before you realize it, you’re comparing your own holiday season experience to what you’re seeing on your feed and you’re feeling down because you think these other people are having a better time than you are.
Remember: Social media is an illusion. It’s simply a highlight reel. People are only posting pictures of themselves in their nicest holiday outfits at fun parties with their friends, not nights home spent alone in PJs or arguments around the dinner table at Christmas. People post what they want everyone to see, and likely will never post the “bad” parts of their holiday season.
Delete the tempting apps off your phone for a few days (or weeks) so you aren’t as tempted to log on — and so you don’t end up scrolling out of habit. Alternatively, you can enable screen time tracking and set time limits for how long you want to allow yourself to spend on each app daily.
2. Focus on meaningful face-to-face connections
Spend less time behind a screen and more time in front of people you love. Many people associate the holidays with family, but if you don’t have a great relationship with your relatives, or you live too far away to celebrate, make it a point to make plans with friends around you who you enjoy spending time with —your chosen family! It can be easy to let yourself mope around and fall into a lonely pit of despair. Be proactive and make sure that doesn’t happen.
Creating plans in advance gives you something to look forward to and get excited about, even when things around you aren’t going so great. You can plan something as simple as a movie and popcorn night at your house, or a low budget Secret Santa party with a few friends. These can be one-offs or become new holiday traditions that you actually enjoy. Aside from the fun factor, it’s beneficial to have people you can trust that you can vent to if you’re having a difficult time during the holidays.
3. Forget about expectations
Society and media have programmed us to think that the holiday season is the “most wonderful time of the year” full of joy, love, family, friends, and presents. For some people, it really is a lovely time of the year full of those things. But let’s be real — December isn’t all happy songs and sparkling lights for everybody. One thing you can do is try to shed your expectations of the holidays, whether they’re the ones that you’ve placed on yourself, ones that your family has placed on you, or ones that society has placed on you. There’s also so much pressure to be happy and “perfect” around this time, but logically, we can’t be either of those things all of the time (especially perfect, no one’s perfect) — and you can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays.
Remember that movies are just movies, not real life. Just because there are songs about how great Christmas is, it doesn’t mean yours is always going to be magical (sorry!). Taking the pressure off yourself to make sure you have a perfect holiday season is one way to lower anxiety around the season, although this is easier said than done. Just remember, your holiday season is yours, not anyone else’s.
4. Practice gratitude
Regardless of how your season is going, if you’re having a great time or a not-so-great time, you can surely find at least a few things to be grateful for. Sit down with a good old fashioned pen and paper (or if you’re on the go, you can cheat with the notes app on your phone) and write down at least five things you’re grateful for. Nothing is off limits — big or small, holiday related or not. You can even challenge yourself to try to fill up a whole page with gratitude. This can help you feel a little bit better about what you do have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. When you’re feeling down, refer back to these lists to remind yourself of all the good you have in your life.
Studies show that writing gratitude lists like these can promote optimism and greater feelings of well-being. You don’t have to share these lists with anybody and you can surely keep them private if you wish, but in the spirit of the holidays, you could even make lists of what you’re grateful for about specific people, letting them know how much they mean to you, and give it to them as a gift. You can do this for a partner, parent, friend, anybody!
5. Give Back
No plans or parties to go to? No problem. Why not take the chance to do something that’s enriching for both you and your community? There are plenty of organizations, both national and local, who are always looking for volunteers to help out. Usually around the holidays they need even more help for food drives, coat drives, and toy drives. It feels good to help others, and really, when you help others, you’re also helping yourself feel good.
Studies have shown that volunteering results in many mental health benefits, including greater feelings of well-being, decreased depression, and overall life satisfaction. Reach out to local organizations to inquire about opportunities, or head to a site like VolunteerMatch where you can browse loads of listings.
6. Don’t forget about self care
Much of the premise of the holidays is giving to others, but don’t forget to treat yourself, too. Carve out some time for much needed self care to rest, rejuvenate, and have some “me-time.” This can mean taking a long hot bath (perfect for cold winter nights), engaging in your favorite form of exercise, doing something creative, meditating — whatever works for you.
Also, ask for help if you need it. If you feel extra overwhelmed and need to talk to a trained crisis counselor, you can text the Crisis Text Line 24/7, 365 days of the year. Nobody at the dinner table will know who you’re texting. Working with a licensed therapist can also be one way to vent about the holidays and they can guide you through some of the thornier moments.
So, remember, if your holiday season isn’t looking like the Hallmark channel, you’re not alone. Just follow these tips to lighten the load of the inevitable stress that comes with the holiday season, and remember to try your best to keep comparison to a minimum — and take care of yourself. Happy holidays!