How to have a Sane Christmas – Thoughts on Handling Holidays-related Malaise

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Only it isn’t always. 

Not say, if you are going through a divorce. Or the time off is forcing you to confront a life that is making you miserable. 

In fact, the run up to Christmas and New Year – and other junctures where we are supposed to feel glowing with content and self-satisfaction – are fraught for a lot of us. 

And when you think about it, the reasons why we can feel crappy are obvious. 

The expectations for merriment and joy are sky high, creating a stark contrast between the ideal of the holiday and how we feel. Any negative feelings that we were happily ignoring come into sharp focus. Even more than usual there is a tendency towards comparing our insides to someone else’s outsides.

Holiday seasons are the worst time for negative self-comparison Click To Tweet

It’s quite the onslaught.

Even if you are excited about the holiday season, the activities we tend to do at this time of year can set us up for a stressful and disappointing time.

This article talks about some stuff that you can do to enjoy a sane and self-aware holiday season, even if you are having a tough time in life. Right at the bottom you’ll find a list of practices I use myself to help alleviate any seasonal-related slump.

3 reasons the holiday season is depressing


As I mentioned, there are various reasons for the upset. Here are three common ones:

Cheery holidays heighten your already-present sadness. Perhaps you are still grieving a recent loss. Or you just feel hyper-aware of the stuff you feel you lack in life.  

You’ve been papering over the cracks. The break from routine affords us with the opportunity to take a long hard look at life, and we don’t like what we see.

Ideally, we shouldn’t wait for the holiday season to spur us into reflection and introspection. But life is busy and it happens. 

The ways you are forced to spend your time at Christmas depress you. Maybe there is a lot of family time and you find that challenging. 

All three scenarios benefit from a bit of additional probing and exploration. 

questions for self-reflection

Here are some good questions for self-reflection:

  • What story are you telling yourself about your life and how you measure up to others?
  • Are you spending a lot of time in your head ruminating over the past?
  • Are you generating new possibilities for a fun way to spend the season?
  • Are you saying no to the things you do not want to do?
  • Are you choosing to accept the things that you have already agreed to do?
  • Do you know how you would really like to spend the time? What’s stopping you from just doing that?

You may find that dissatisfaction melts away once you acknowledge any stories or old beliefs that are influencing your thinking. That might be enough to free you up.

Other times, dissatisfaction is more pervasive. 

Can’t get no satisfaction?


Real dissatisfaction isn’t something to gloss over and numb ourselves against. It may be pointing us towards some changes we need to make. (Circularly, this may also be why we have been ignoring it.)

Truly responding to dissatisfaction is being present with it and using it as learning.

Real dissatisfaction is nothing to be dismissed. There is learning to be had there Click To Tweet

If you are dissatisfied with your life, I wouldn’t delay until the start of the New Year to start thinking about the changes you can make. 

Many of us enjoy the ‘clean slate’ feel of a fresh new year to add gusto to our intentions. But if you are able to schedule in some self-reflection during the period leading up to New Year, you’ll be more likely to set intentions and resolutions that feel meaningful to you.

The heart of dissatisfaction


The purpose of dissatisfaction is to guide us to something currently outside of our awareness.

We can categorize dissatisfaction as follows:

Dissatisfaction stemming from negative self-perception. We are unhappy with our own actions and omissions, which we feel powerless to change (maybe we have already tried and failed to make changes). 

Dissatisfaction derived from external circumstances and situations. We feel trapped or somehow disempowered by life circumstances.

It is worth figuring out what is going on for you. It will help you to know the right response.

Dissatisfaction with self

Maybe you are looking back at the year and not feeling all that good about what you managed to achieve.

It is so difficult for our egos to resist the lure of the ‘not enough’ record. Many people never manage it, spending their whole lives a step removed from their potential – as well as their achievements.

Here’s how I would/do deal with that:

  1. Acknowledge you have some internal dissatisfaction.
  2. Figure out what you would need to be doing in order to feel a sense of progress.
  3. Recognize that you’re more likely to take action if you see things as they are as being okay. 

It is a paradox in life that positive changes are generally easier to make when we feel positive. Do what you know to do to shift into a more positive frame of mind (movement, rest, self care) as you set your intentions.

Paradoxically, it is easier to make changes in life when we feel good about ourselves Click To Tweet

Do not wait to feel good about yourself now.

Environmental/circumstantial dissatisfaction 

Maybe it’s not you, it’s them. (Or it.)

Your relationship. Your job. The President of the United States. The excessive commercialization of Christmas (I feel you on this one.)

Maybe you are feeling angry and frustrated about the way the outside world is now.

This is also a great opportunity to dig deep.

What are you so angry and frustrated about and why? What is underneath that?

Are you in fact saddened by, and scared of, the levels of uncertainty around you? Can you instead bring some awareness and compassion to those feelings, instead of being caught up at anger?

There’s nothing wrong with our partners, jobs and the state of the political/economical climate – nothing that can be objectively agreed on, anyway. Any feeling of wrongness is in our not choosing. And if we are not choosing, then why are we staying?

And if we are staying – then why aren’t we choosing?

Any experience of wrongness is in our not choosing our circumstances Click To Tweet

Environmental dissatisfaction can be dropped easily once you get real about what is actually going on with you. You can learn about the choices you aren’t making.

Good practices for that are compassion, awareness and acceptance. If you’ve never before tried this practices, then the holiday season is the perfect time to invest in your future self.

And on that note: here are some sane practices for the holiday season.

9 practices for staying sane in the holiday season 


Manage your expectations

Always one of life’s crucial endeavors! Lower your expectations and any attachment to what your holiday season should look like. Instead, be present and enjoy each moment as best you can.

Smart reflection

Get really honest with yourself about what is going on – refuse to skate on the edge of truth.

Self care and compassion

Be with your feelings – don’t always escape from them into the arms of sex, drugs and alcohol. Being with what arises will change your ability to care for yourself through difficult and challenging life events and circumstances. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction with yourself if you are able to do this when previously you couldn’t.

Be mindfully where you are 

Don’t go onto autopilot at family events and other things you don’t really enjoy. Show up with as much presence as you can muster instead. 

As well as mindfulness, try savoring the positive experiences. This is another practice that has been shown scientifically to build positive emotions. 

Saying no

Set personal boundaries regarding the number of social events and the money you want to spend on gifts. 

Saying yes

Take action and do interesting and fun things.

Reflect but avoid ruminating

Brooding and rumination are not beneficial. This is how depression happens. It is an over preoccupation with the past.

Don’t buy the dream

Refuse to accept any picture perfect representation of Christmas that your Facebook friends, TV ads or other people try to make you believe.

Gratitude (gratitude, gratitude)

Paring up with gratitude is consistently a must in life. The science showing the effect of practicing gratitude on mood and wellbeing continues to snowball.

If you are feeling far removed from all that’s good in life, this might feel a little fake and contrived to begin with.  

Stick at it though.



Don’t just put up with feeling Scrooge-like this Christmas.

Use the holiday season as an opportunity to get to know yourself better. Find out how and why exactly you are robbing yourself of feelings of joyfulness. 

Do your best to resist the temptation of buying into the myth that everyone else is having the best time ever. You know it isn’t true.

Be honest, be kind, be present and choose yourself Click To Tweet

Use the time wisely. Try not to avoid things (or yourself). Don’t make yourself wrong for anything. Be kind and be present.

Respect your emotions, desires and commitments.

And above all, choose yourself.