How to Emotionally Prepare For the Holidays

by Amy McCarthy

Most of us get really stressed out during the holidays. Sometimes, there’s a perfectly legitimate reason for holiday stress, like an empty bank account or a cross-country flight. Other times, though, we’re just stressed out and sad for no reason.

Whatever the cause, it’s true that depression and anxiety diagnoses increase during the holiday season. If you feel like you’re suffering from any of the signs of depression, like extreme fatigue or an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, you should see a medical professional for an evaluation.

For those with just run-of-the-mill Christmas blues, a little preparation goes a long way in staying sane. Try these four strategies before you break out the booze and self-soothe.

1. Be realistic.

It isn’t up to you to create some kind of magical holiday fantasy for everyone in your family. Don’t kill yourself trying to make a twelve-course gourmet dinner — Gordon Ramsay isn’t going to be there. You also don’t have to gift like a Kardashian — buy what fits into your budget (or make DIY gifts if you’re really tapped) and remember that "it’s the thought that counts.” If you try to extend yourself beyond what is reasonable, you’re going to end up resentful, sad, and probably broke.

2. Do happy, fun things

There are all kinds of events and activities going on during the holiday season that will lighten your mood. Go ice skating, take a drive through a ritzy neighborhood to look at lights, or go watch a tree lighting. Even the most cynical and bitter Scrooge can’t resist a little holiday magic. As a bonus, most of these events are cheap or free, so you won’t cut into your gift budget.

3. Do what’s best for you

Sometimes it’s actually easier to make the tough decision. If discord in your family is stressing you to the max, tell them that you’re staying home this year. You can also scale back your visit by heading to your parents or grandparents before the actual festivities begin. You don’t have to please everyone all of the time, especially if means doubling your Xanax dose.

4. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.

Sitting at the table holding your tongue while your random aunt discusses your love life is probably what you’ve done for years, but it may not be best for your mental health. You don’t have to be rude, but you can firmly (yet politely) tell people to shove it when they’re getting a little too personal or too judgey. The next time someone sets your teeth on edge, simply say “I would rather not talk about my (love life, weight, political views) at the dinner table. Can we change the subject?” If they won’t, excuse yourself to the kids table.

Now that we’re not children anymore, the holiday season has lost a little of its magic. That doesn’t mean, though, that you have to suffer until New Year’s.