The holidays are represented as a time of joy, happiness, love, being surrounded by those we love, family, friends, gifts, and celebration. I mean really, what Hallmark movie isn’t complete without finding your soulmate, having a feast around the table with all your family, snow, or getting the deal of a lifetime? Even magazine advertisements, think about it. Do you ever see a child in a magazine that isn’t happy with their new toy? (Let’s be honest, that new toy will keep their attention for approximately 20 mins) What about the Folgers commercials? Side note…they always make me cry.

For some, maybe this is your reality and that’s great. But, for many there is a silent confusion. A disparity between what they are supposed to experience and feel and what they actually experience and feel. This can lead to sadness, loneliness, stress and grief during and around the holidays. These people are not the exception, I would argue to some degree they are the norm. And if this is you, hear me, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

So here are just a few helpful tips to prepare yourself for the holidays and enjoy them to the best of your ability:

Set realistic expectations for yourself

This is probably the most important one and the hardest to implement. It also feeds into the next few that will be discussed. This includes decorations, cooking, family get-togethers, etc. The list  could go on. How much can you realistically handle? There is no one set limit so you’ll have to evaluate what’s best for you. Here are a few examples to get the ball rolling. It may be that the big Christmas tree in the attic isn’t feasible this year. Maybe you need a 3 ft tree instead. Maybe, you don’t decorate at all.  Instead of hosting the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal this year you hand it off to another family member. Maybe, instead of providing an entire meal you ask for everyone to bring an item. Are 3 family events too much to handle. Take control of your situation and limit family gatherings.

These examples may seem drastic to some but for many they are realistic expectations that will help them handle the chaos of the holidays and actually feel joy and peace.

Limit your media saturation

In order to set realistic expectations for yourself you may find that you have to limit the media. TV shows and movies, advertisements and social media are all forms of media that push cultural expectations and can create and increase feelings of  inferiority, sadness, loneliness and grief. When you look at the world through the lens of the media your world is never good enough. So limiting its influence is key.

Set a budget

Stuff is not the answer. Right now I don’t care if yours or someone else’s love language is gift giving. If the gift or gifts exceeds your means then it’s not wise and will only lead to feeling stressed. Have conversations with others about setting limits, or tell them that you will not be spending as much this Christmas season. Doing so doesn’t mean you don’t care, in fact, it may actually free you up to invest in people rather than focusing on the amount swiped. I’m a big fan of time > gifts. If someone cares more about the gift you give them than getting to be with you then it reveals the sin in their life.

Be specific about what you need and ask for it

Loneliness is only amplified in isolation. If you don’t want to be alone then initiate time with others. Join a small group, go to church and talk to people, and participate in events. Ask a friend to dinner or ask your friends over for a friendsgiving dinner. Family is a luxury that many don’t have, so don’t hesitate to surround yourself with people who are not family. You cannot be frustrated that others aren’t there for you if you don’t tell them your needs.

I believe there is a difference in happiness and joy. Happiness is superficial and dependent on circumstances. Whereas, joy is an eternal hope filled with gratitude. Hopefully these tips can help you navigate the holiday season in a deeply joyful way. Christian Mom Counseling is praying for you. If the holidays are a difficult time for you and you’d like to pursue counseling please reach out. I’d love to help.