It’s the holidays, for goodness sake! Aren’t you supposed to feel happy, with warmth emanating from your face like the glow of fireplace embers?! Well, maybe not. It’s a known phenomena in the mental health care community that stress and anxiety spike during the holiday season. This year, mental-health professionals expect an even higher increase than usual. In the name of safe tidings for all, it’s hard to create the hallmark togetherness that marks the season. Conversations regarding travel plans and safety precautions can be a minefield, being far from family can refresh feelings of isolation, and empty seats at the dining table can remind one of the pandemic’s toll. If you’re having a hard time bringing the holiday cheer this year, you’re not alone. Try out these tips, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re hiding your feelings like they’re holiday presents — that’s normal.

Sometimes, feeling your feelings isn’t all that easy. 

Emotions like anger, grief, sadness, frustration, apathy, and doubt get coded in our minds as “wrong.” When the feelings come up, we push them away, thinking that we “shouldn’t” feel one way and “should” feel another. It’s as though the less-than-bubbly emotions imply something is wrong with our outlook. 

Try to rewrite this narrative for yourself or any loved ones that reprimand themselves for their honest emotions. Sadness doesn’t mean you aren’t strong enough. Discontent doesn’t indicate you aren’t grateful enough. Feeling sluggish is not a sign of laziness. There’s a saying: what you resist, persists. If you shut out feelings, they just knock at harder until you open the door. 

This season, give yourself and your loved ones the gift of therapy.

If you aren’t sure how to confront uncomfortable thoughts and emotions or with whom to share them, try therapy

There is a common and well-intentioned tendency to keep quiet about negativity in order to stay “strong” for others (such as the spouse who does not share her stress with her partner in order to remain supportive, or the child who does not share their dark thoughts with his parents in order not to burden them with worry). Therapy provides a safe space for you or your loved ones to vent about the stress and share the negative emotions without feeling concerned over the impact your words have on the morale of one another. Go ahead, talk about your budgetary concerns regarding presents this season, express the anger you feel about missing family, friends, and holiday traditions, grieve the loss of a relationship or loved one. To the ear of a professional, any and every feeling is allowed. 

On top of that, a therapist can help you figure out how to proactively work with your emotions and make a game plan for coping with them, repairing strained relationships, and finding strategies for relief. If you decide to go this route, Georgetown Psychology provides online therapy — gift a session to yourself or a loved one. As long as you have a private space (yes, you can be in your flannel pajamas with a mug of cocoa!) and an internet connection, you’re good to go.

Make the most of the holiday season by getting creative!

  • Be intentional about your virtual gatherings. Give everyone involved a small amount of reflective prep-work to come prepared to share. Try these prompts out:

What are five things you accomplished this year?

Write down one of your funniest memories about someone who will be joining us on the call.

Write down three ways you are grateful for the people in your life.

  • Make a point of volunteering virtually! Who says you have to stand in the cold to warm the hearts of others. Check this link out and filter for your needs.
  • Make holiday greeting videos to send around. Love a certain jingle? A favorite holiday story? Record a video of yourself singing or reading it and see the joy it spreads to others when you send it around! Remember to go all out — dress the part and be silly. This is a chance to embrace imperfections and celebrate silliness.
  • Host a mail-style white elephant. Read these rules then adjust it to keep the festivity virtual. White elephant cuts down on spending (because you only buy one gift) and keeps things exciting (because you can trade for that gift you really want!). Especially if your kids are missing their friends, white elephant can deepen the feelings of spontaneity and connection they long for.