25 Ways to Find Holiday Joy When Life’s Been Hard

Find your balance; lean on Christ

By Drake Mariani, Founder, MemLok Bible Memory System | Monday, December 5, 2016


The worst feeling is to be down and depressed during the holidays. Especially when everyone around you seems to be overflowing with holiday spirit. Attending family events, the endless parties, and shopping can tear away at your emotions. Have you had a bad year? Lost someone you love? ..or just trying to process all the terror attacks in the news? It can be a real struggle to "be of good cheer" during the holidays. Especially when everyone seems to be having a good time. The reality is everyone has struggles. Some do a better job of hiding it; others do a better job of managing it. Here are some tips to help you get through the holidays.

Manage Your Emotions

1. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. Don't compare your holidays to some imagined, fantasy greeting card. Don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come. This is your moment to celebrate. Not last year; not next year. Be grateful for now.

2. Do something different. This year, does the prospect of the usual routine fill you with holiday dread rather than holiday joy? If so, don’t surrender to it. Try something different. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant. Spend Christmas day at the movie theater. Get your family to agree to skip gifts and instead donate the money to a charity.

3. Lean on your support system. If you’ve been depressed, you need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough. So during the holidays, take time to get together with your support team regularly — or at least keep in touch by phone to keep yourself centered. 

4. Don’t assume the worst. Don’t start the holiday season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the holidays as they come and limit your expectations — both good and bad — you may enjoy them more.

5. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to holiday tradition. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof this year? So what if you don’t get the special Christmas mugs from the crawl space? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your holiday spirit.

6. Volunteer. Sure, you may feel stressed out and booked up already. But consider taking time to help people who have less than you. Try volunteering at a soup kitchen or working for a toy drive. Joy is spelled JOY. Jesus, Others, then You. The Christian's lifestyle will reflect those priorities. Today. Be all there. "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!" Ecclesiastes 9:10 "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." John 15:11

Dealing with Family

7. Head off problems. Think about what people or situations trigger your holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them. If seeing your uncle stresses you out, skip his New Year’s party and just stop by for a quick hello on New Year’s Day. Instead of staying in your bleak, childhood bedroom at your stepfather’s house, check into a nearby hotel. You really have more control than you think.

8. Ask for help — but be specific. See if your spouse will lug out the decorations. Ask your sister to help you cook — or host the holiday dinner itself. Invite a friend along on shopping trips. People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.

9. Don’t worry about things beyond your control. So your uncle and your dad get into a fight every holiday dinner and it makes you miserable. But remember your limits. You can’t control them. But you can control your own reaction to the situation.

10. Make new family traditions. People often feel compelled to keep family holiday traditions alive long past the point that anyone’s actually enjoying them. Don’t keep them going for their own sake. Consider starting a new holiday tradition instead that is meaningful to you personally.

11. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Holidays may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. But instead of just feeling glum, do something active to celebrate their memory. For instance, go out with your sisters to your mom’s favorite restaurant and give her a toast.

Getting Through the Parties

12. Don’t overbook. Pace yourself as the holiday season lasts a long time. Don’t say yes to every invitation willy-nilly. Think about which parties and you can fit in — and which ones you really want to attend.

13. Don’t stay longer than you want. Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the bitter end. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain you have other engagements. The hosts will understand that it’s a busy time of year and appreciate your effort. Knowing you have a plan to leave can really ease your anxiety.

14. Have a partner for the party. If the prospect of an office party is causing holiday stress, talk to a friend and arrange to arrive — and leave — together. You may feel much better knowing you have an ally and a plan of escape.

Take Shopping in Stride

15. Forget about the perfect gift. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, now is not the time to fret about finding the absolute best gift ever for your great aunt or your mailman. Remember: everybody likes a gift certificate.

16. Shop online. Save yourself the inconvenience, the crowds, and the horrors of the mall parking lot by doing the bulk of your shopping online.

17. Stick to a budget. The cost of holiday shopping mounts quickly and can make people feel out of control and anxious. So draw up a budget long before you actually start your shopping and stick to it.

Taking Care of Yourself

18. Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays. Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t pull an all-nighter wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your mood deteriorate. Remember, you can only live one day at a time and God has your back for ALL of it! Psalms 118:24 "This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

19. Exercise. While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise during the holidays, the benefits are worth it. Exercise has a pretty strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect. You can work physical activity into your errands. When you’re shopping, take a few extra laps around the mall. Walk your Christmas cards to the post office instead of driving.

20. Eat sensibly. When you’re facing a dozen holiday parties and family gatherings between now and New Year’s, it’s hard to stay committed to a sensible diet. But try. Eating healthy may keep you feeling better — physically and emotionally. On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up if you go overboard on the cookie platter in the break room. It’s not a big deal. Just get back on track the next day.

21. Don’t rely on holiday spirits (or other substances). Remember that alcohol is itself a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse. It also may not be safe for people taking antidepressant medication.

22. Try a sun lamp. As the daylight grows shorter, lots of people find their mood gets gloomier. While some have diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even people who don’t may still have a seasonal aspect to their depression. Talk to your doctor about trying a sun lamp. It could improve your mood.

23. If you take medication, don’t miss doses. In the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy to slack off and miss medication, says Pope. Don’t let that happen. Make sure that you’re up-to-date on your refills, too.

24. If you see a therapist, have extra meetings. To stay grounded, plan ahead and schedule some extra sessions during the holiday season. Or you could ask about the possibility of doing quick phone check-ins. Real joy comes from God and His Word - start your day with it. Jeremiah 15:16 "Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts."

25. Give yourself a break. Try to cut yourself some slack. Be gentle with yourself. It is the season of kindness and forgiveness, after all. Save some of it for yourself. God wants you to be joyful.Jesus says "I have come that you may have joy, abundant joy!" John 10:10b Matthew 11:30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. MSG

UPDATED: December 5, 2016