Coping with the Ups and Downs of the Holiday Season 
by Gregg Krech

The holiday season, as we all know, can be complicated.  Though we may experience moments of good cheer, sprinkled throughout the holidays, we may also feel disappointed, if we have high expectations.   We may get depressed if we are isolated. And tense, if we have a history of family conflicts.  Many people look forward to the holidays, but also feel a profound sense of relief once the holiday season is over.  It’s complicated.

Let’s think about what we can do to enhance and uplift our experience during this unique time of year.

1. Keep it simple
Where does the joyful spirit of the holidays live for you?  Some people find that spirit while shopping for presents, while others become anxious about credit card debt, tired of crowds at the mall, and bleary-eyed by online shopping.  While exchanging presents can be a lovely ritual, it can also be tricky.  And there’s much more to the holidays than gifts.  It can be a time to delight in our senses and be charmed by the special features of the season:  the scent of balsam trees,  the aroma of holiday cookies, the taste of mulled cider, the sparkle of white lights, and the familiar charm of favorite seasonal music.  These simple moments can awaken a joyful spirit, but only if we pause long enough to witness them and experience them.  It can also be the perfect time to express simple gestures of kindness and generosity.  Looking for such opportunities can become a holiday practice.  Give yourself away when you are out in the world.  Even simple smiles or kind words to a stranger can add a touch of holiday spirit.

2. Reflect on your Good Fortune
Beginning with Thanksgiving, the end of the year is well-suited for self-reflection.  You might try making a list of 50 things about your life for which you are most grateful.  This process helps you to notice how the world is supporting you.  If you don’t notice the support, you can’t experience an authentic sense of appreciation.  You can’t recognize your good fortune.  Instead, you may take it all for granted.  So step back and take a look at how your life is sustained by the world.  Who and what is involved in your travels, nourishment, entertainment, health care?  What holds your life in place?  Take some time to see your life in a bigger context.  Reflect on your good fortune.

4. Get some fresh air and exercise
We love our comfort zones, don’t we?  When we are warm and cozy inside, taking a walk in the cold world outside may be very easy to resist.  What a hassle to bundle up and get our bodies moving.  But our bodies were designed to move, not to be sedentary.  And moving our bodies is also good for our minds.  It can lift our spirits and help to shake off depression.  The stimulating air and the natural world can be exhilarating.   We are not meant to live our entire lives indoors.  We thrive on fresh air and natural sunlight.  So although the holidays can be a busy time, make it a point to spend at least some time outdoors.  It can help you to keep your balance and your good cheer during the season.

5. Stop trying to repair your loved ones’ lives
We all know how tricky family gatherings can be.  Especially these days.  There are deep chasms running through many families.  If you want to have a peaceful and joyful experience with family members, don’t try to fix anyone else’s point of view.  Don’t try to show them the light or pull them from the dark.  Don’t try to convert them to your cause, just because that cause is a righteous one (I mean, why else would you choose it). Just try to navigate skillfully in arenas that are outside the chasm.

Your family members may not be interested in your opinion about their opinion.

And, more than likely, they don’t want your judgments or advice.  Find a way to connect that is real but not inflammatory.  How many more holiday seasons do you think you have ahead of you?  Keep that awareness in mind as you engage with others during the holidays.

No matter how well we work with our circumstances, we may still feel waves of distress, fatigue, and depression.  It’s natural to feel the whole range of human emotion from time to time.  Just don’t let those feelings derail you.   They’ll move on, just as sure as winter will turn into spring.

Gregg Krech will be leading the Living on Purpose program, beginning on Jan. 8, 2024.  Gregg is the author of five books about Japanese Psychology, including The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. 


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