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Declare your holiday bill of rights

The holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Whether it’s your first New Year’s Eve without someone you love or your tenth Thanksgiving away from your kids, you may find yourself dreading the holiday season. And the fact that there can be more pressure to be attentive and cheerful during the holidays can make it even worse.

You deserve to honor the holidays in a way that works best for you—and to take care of yourself in the process. Use this bill of rights to give yourself permission to make the holidays what you need them to be. Share it with loved ones so they can help support you.

This holiday season, you have the right to:

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1

Choose how you want to spend the holiday

Even the most understanding friends and family may expect you to cook, show up with gifts, and generally exude holiday cheer. Talk to them ahead of time so they know how you’re feeling and what you’re up for this year. Let them know that you may change your mind, even at the last minute, or if you prefer to play it by ear. Research shows that we’re not actually that great at predicting how we’ll feel in the future, so leave yourself room for flexibility.1

2

Do only what feels right

If you don’t feel like celebrating a holiday, don’t. Choose to honor old traditions if they comfort you. Think about starting new ones if you feel the need to do something different. To spark ideas for new traditions, think about activities you’ve always wanted to do, places you’ve always wanted to visit, or special meals you’ve always wanted to make. New traditions can create something to look forward to for future holidays.

3

Let people help

The holidays can come with long lists of errands to run or tasks to complete. Ask for and accept help with any of them. People who care about you will be happy to do something for you. You won’t ruin the holiday for others by leaning on them.

4

Feel however you feel

Holidays are filled with memories and traditions that can cause unexpected and shifting emotions. There’s no one right way to be. People who tell you how you “should” feel or act may mean well, but they often don’t know what’s best for you. Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are and try to limit your time with those people who don’t. If you’re being hard on yourself, try to go easy. Notice when you tell yourself how you “should” feel and try to replace those thoughts with acceptance of your feelings as they come.

5

Talk about it—or don’t

The question of whether and when to open up can be complicated. People will ask how you’re doing. With some friends and family, you can tell them how you’re really feeling without ruining their day. But not everyone will welcome honesty or be able to handle it calmly. In some moments, it may be easier to deflect the question than choose between opening up or giving a sugar-coated response. For instance, you can ask about their holiday plans. Consider coming prepared with a subject of conversation you can dive into easily.

6

Take care of yourself

Holidays are exhausting under normal circumstances—and they can be even more so when you’re facing hardship. It’s so important to take care of yourself. Research shows that self-care can make it easier to cope with stress, especially during this busy season. Eat well, stay active, try to sleep, and give yourself the opportunity to relax when you need it.2

7

Hold on to hope

This holiday may not be the same as past ones. In fact, holidays may never quite look the way they did before. But they won’t necessarily always be this hard, either. You don’t know what the next year has in store for you, and you won’t always feel how you do right now. Watch for signs of the mental trap of permanence—that is, believing that things will never get better. If you find yourself falling into it, try replacing words like “always” with “sometimes” to remind yourself that the future doesn’t have to be like the past.3

Endnotes

  1. Wilson, Timothy D., and Daniel T. Gilbert. 2005. “Affective Forecasting: Knowing What to Want.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 14: 131-34.
    Gilbert, Daniel T. 2006. Stumbling on Happiness. New York: Knopf.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. 2017. “Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping.” Published September 16, 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544.
  3. Maier, Steven F., and Martin E. P. Seligman. 2016. “Learned Helplessness at Fifty: Insights from Neuroscience.” Psychological Review 123: 349-67.
    Seligman, Martin E. P. 1991. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books