With a little planning, you can turn the most hectic time of the year into your kind of wonderful.

No matter how positive our habits, relationships, or attitudes are, the holidays have a sneaky way of testing our resolve. 

The pressure often starts mounting in early November … and it can stick with us well into the New Year. Sometimes all that holiday hustle and pomp can lift our spirits. In other cases, the festivities feel like salt rubbed in wounds we haven’t yet healed. For many of us, the reality spirals into some dizzying combination of the two. 

But glimmers of hope can be found when we prioritize self-guided care throughout the holiday season. Find a few that resonate, and make them year-round parts of your personal practice.


First: Check in with yourself

If you or someone you know is in crisis, start here. 

Mental Health America

  • Call or text 988
  • Chat 988lifeline.org
  • Text “MHA” to 741741 (Crisis Text Line of Mental Health America)

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline

  • Call 800-985-5990. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need.
  • Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine (M-F 10-am-10pm ET)

  • Call 800-950-6264
  • Text “Helpline” to 62640
  • Chat nami.org/help

No matter how or why you’re hurting, help is all around you. The only thing you have to do is reach out.


Next: Create new holiday habits

We collected some of the most common sources of struggle during he holidays and shared some ideas for how to treat yourself with grace and goodness. (And yes, that includes taking the last cookie from the antique tray. You earned it — or you will soon.) 

The common thread here is remembering you are the captain of your own ship, and taking action to steer it back into calmer waters.


I’m running on empty.

Even if you don’t personally celebrate the holidays, you can’t exactly escape them. Our culture is full of peppermint-flavored obligations / opportunities to participate in the season. Work parties, shopping events, gift exchanges. All this “holidaying” can leave us feeling depleted — and can mess with our sleep schedule. 

It’s ok to temporarily sacrifice some shut-eye for engagements we feel excited about. Maybe you can’t get your usual or preferred amount of sleep every night. But it can also be helpful to understand the effects of “sleep debt,” and practice ways of recovering from sleep deficit


I dislike small talk.

“What’s new?” “How have you been?” These innocent questions can stop even the most extroverted person in their tracks. After all, “new” is subjective. And nobody actually expects the truth when they ask how things are going. (Except Aunt Ada. She wants the straight scoop so she can share it with all your distant relations.) 

The solution? Be ready with your answers! Make a quick list (either on paper or mentally) of talking points for the conversations you’ll be having. Sometimes it helps to assume everyone else feels equally uncertain about small talk, and probably doesn’t know how to get a genuine conversation started. Your discussion could be the spark that lights up some real talk!  

Bonus points for brainstorming a couple creative, thoughtful icebreakers. Or just ask the questions you wish someone would ask you. Start the ball rolling with Toastmasters’ handy set of tips for surviving holiday party talk.


I struggle around my family.

Not everyone finds comfort and joy in family gatherings. From differences in values to histories of trauma and abuse, many of us actively avoid sharing the same space as our next of kin at all costs. 

If you plan to attend a family function with relatives who make you uncomfortable, spend a bit of time journaling beforehand. List out each family member and write a line or two about how they make you feel. Indicate which people you see as allies, which you see as adversaries, and which you see as neutral. 

For your allies, imagine one thing you could say or do that might strengthen that goodwill and mutual respect. For your adversaries, imagine something you could say or do that might heal a past misunderstanding without risking further trauma to yourself. Finally, decide how many of those exchanges you actually want to have. Be realistic, and give yourself (and them) a great deal of grace. And voila — your emotional labor ends here! 

The topic of family and holidays deserves an entire book, but you can find a provocative and helpful set of strategies in this recent article about getting through your next family gathering.


I am surrounded by eggnog, cookies, and cocktail weenies. 

Holiday fare isn’t exactly known for its nutritive value. And every function, gathering, event, recital, etc. seems to have its own spread. To keep from feeling pressure to consume every canapé, croissant, or cheese curd you encounter during these 6-or-so weeks, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions. 

Why am I contemplating eating this [sugar cookie]? Because I want to, because I’m hungry, or because it’s there? After I eat this cookie, do I imagine I will feel better, worse, or about the same? Is there something else I could eat that would be more satisfying, delicious, nutritious, or all of the above? 

The CDC’s 5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays article is geared toward those on a diabetes meal plan, but the concepts are solid no matter how you would (or wouldn’t) characterize your nutrition requirements.


I wind up spending way too much money.

With so many opportunities to gather, toast, and deck the halls around this time of year, it can be challenging to keep costs in check. How much is too much to spend on the circus-themed centerpiece for your fifth family brunch of the season, anyway? 

Only you can decide what’s right for you. Whether you set a holiday budget, find cost-effective alternatives to some of your usual expenses, or change up your gifting strategy, there are many ways you can control holiday spending while still maintaining a generous spirit.


I have trouble saying no to holiday engagements (and probably other things).

Healthy boundaries are important in every season, but during the holidays they can be even more crucial to our health and wellbeing. One such boundary can be summed up as the “art of graciously declining an invitation.” That’s right, you can protect your mental health while still showing kindness and displaying good manners!

Knowing when or how to politely exit a conversation or tactfully leave a gathering are also boundaries worth putting some thought and practice into. 

More generally, here are a few “just say no” tips to try on for size: 

  • Be direct. “I can’t that day” or “That timing doesn’t work for me” is straight to the point (and hard to argue with). 
  • Be unapologetic. It’s ok to just state facts such as, “I already made plans that day” or “I have another commitment.” You don’t have to be sorry for living your life.
  • Be genuine. Don’t delay the inevitable by saying you’ll think about it if you know you won’t. 
  • Be appreciative. “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m completely maxed out right now.”
  • Be creative. Offer an alternative if it makes sense. “I wish I could be there, but it isn’t going to work. Would you be up for [xyz] instead?’


I don’t have loved ones I can celebrate with.

When we’re separated (geographically or emotionally) from our loved ones, the holidays can be heart-achingly lonely, stirring up past traumas, regrets, and grief. A constant barrage of images and advertisements about what this time of year “should” look like can make it even harder to find balance. 

But even if you aren’t able to gather with friends or family, you can find people who want the same thing as you — a chance to connect with others through activities, ideas, or shared values. 

The Y has been a gathering place since 1844 for people from around the world experiencing all of life’s joys and sorrows. Our spaces and programs offer opportunities for trying new things and meeting new people. 

For anyone looking to find balance or to enhance a wellbeing practice, our shared group experiences help bring human connection to self-guided care. Our sound baths, breathwork sessions, community acupuncture, nutrition workshops, and wellbeing workshops are  designed to support you on your wellbeing journey, during the holidays and throughout the year.