How To Cope If You're Not Feeling Merry At Christmas

If you're not feeling very holly jolly this Christmas, don't worry — you're definitely not alone. We all think of the holiday season as a time that's supposed to be about comfort and joy. In reality, though, as the Mayo Clinic points out, this can be one of the most overwhelming, stressful, and even depressing times for a lot of us. 

It can be especially difficult to cope with stressors and negative feelings at this time of year because we typically feel like we need to put on a happy face and do plenty of socializing. In reality, though, ignoring pain, stress, and sadness will only make you feel worse in the long run. It could even have major consequences, too. 

Prioritizing yourself and your mental health during the holiday season is tough, but it's important not to neglect your own needs while creating a celebratory time for others. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help you feel better and maybe even engineer a little Christmas spirit in the process. 

Know that your feelings are valid

We all get a little overwhelmed at times, but the holiday season can be especially stressful. Because we're so used to hearing "'tis the season to be jolly," it can be even harder to admit that we're unhappy. Still, life was probably going normally before the holidays, and it will continue afterward, too. This means that many of us are experiencing grief, loss, or heartbreak when the season of togetherness rolls around, and it can exacerbate these negative feelings. 

By the same token, as Everyday Health notes, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is, of course, at an all-time high around this time of year. SAD is a type of depression that is heavily affected by the seasons, and for most sufferers, their depression worsens in the darker winter months. Regardless of what is negatively affecting your mood, according to Mayo Clinic, you should make an effort to allow yourself to feel these feelings. 

Always keep in mind that it's okay to be sad, lonely, or stressed around Christmastime. In fact, many of us are! Acknowledging your feelings instead of trying to feign happiness can make a huge difference, and it will put you on the right track to knowing which changes to make to put a little pep back in your step. 

Don't be afraid to set boundaries

The holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for many people. Often, the busier you are, the easier it can be to become stressed. Resisting obligations and responsibilities that are pulling you in a million different directions can be hard, but it's crucial for managing stress. The best way to regain control in situations like these is to set clear boundaries. As Sarah Gundle, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, and trauma specialist told Everyday Health, "It's very important to be mindful of your own boundaries — and when something feels overwhelming, try to pay attention and act on it."

This can mean anything from saying "no" to an invitation to taking time off work or even just setting your phone to silent. Further, Dr. Carmen Harra, psychologist and author of "Committed: Finding Love and Loyalty Through the Seven Archetypes" explained to the Daily Mail, "The best way to find a happy medium between feeling comfortable and fulfilling your obligations is to set realistic limits for yourself: put your best face on and make an appearance at the gathering but excuse yourself after an hour or two. Don't feel guilty about leaving early or staying for only half of the party — you should be proud of yourself for making the effort to go in the first place." 

Be aware of stressors, avoid people-pleasing, and prioritize your mental health. Take care of yourself, even or especially when it feels uncomfortable. 

Make plans and stick to them

Santa isn't the only one with a lot of work to get done by Christmas, so he shouldn't be the only one making a list and checking it twice either. Mayo Clinic advises that making plans can be crucial to staying in control and not getting overwhelmed during the holidays. From preparing for any events you'll be hosting or attending in advance to blocking out time for wrapping presents, making a schedule can put your mind at ease and keep you from getting stressed. 

Planning a budget can also help keep stress at bay. We all know how expensive the festive season can get — from holiday shopping, which we're now doing earlier than ever, to decorating and everything in between. Keeping track of what you're buying and setting limits can stop you from going overboard with spending, which will take some potential worries off your plate heading into Christmas. 

Robert Epstein, a psychologist, and self-help author informed TIME that the best way to manage your stress is "fighting stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen." He elaborated, "That means planning your day, your year, and your life so that stress is minimized." This is especially important when things feel out of your control because there isn't enough time in the day — like during the holidays. 

Don't hesitate to reach out to others

The holiday season typically requires a lot of socializing, but for many of us, it can feel isolating. However, Dr. Carmen Harra reassured the Daily Mail that regardless of which situation you find yourself in, it's important to prioritize spending time with people you care about, and who give you the same back, rather than just doing it out of obligation — even if that means making a simple phone call or sending a text. 

According to Dr.Harra, "Being around people who make you feel good can enhance your mood and increase your lifespan. This is because being in good company can rearrange your brain chemistry and teach you to adopt a more positive attitude." It's also totally acceptable to take this time to make connections with people you haven't spoken to in a while. 

As Ashley Bernardi, the author of "Authentic Power: Give Yourself Permission to Feel," explained to Everyday Health, "Never underestimate the power and love of your own community. People want to help. All you need to do is ask for it." Alternatively, or even additionally, as the Mayo Clinic reiterates, there's never a wrong time to seek professional help. 

Carve out some time to treat yourself

'Tis the season of giving, which we can all agree is wonderful and hugely rewarding. In reality, though, treating yourself at Christmastime is vital for your mental health, since we often end up ignoring our needs at this time of year. As Sarah Gundle, PsyD, argued to Everyday Health, "While practicing good self-care is always important, it is even more important during the holidays."

Dr. Carmen Harra put it well when talking to the Daily Mail, too: "Whether it's a day at the spa, a small present to yourself, a good workout session, or re-watching your favorite movies, center every day around an activity that makes you smile." You could even mark down certain activities or treats on a calendar, to ensure you don't avoid doing them and can keep track of how you're feeling. 

Harra continued, "Try to treat yourself with more patience and gentleness. Showing such virtues to yourself will not only make the holidays easier to tolerate, [but] they will [also] make you an overall better, wiser person as well." Being treated with patience and gentleness makes everyone feel just a bit merrier, so why not give that Christmas gift to yourself? 

No matter how you feel this holiday season, know that it's more than just okay; it's totally normal! So, sit back, watch your favorite holiday movie, and remember that you're doing a great job. You'll be feeling calmer before you know it.