1. Be realistic.
A friend of mine says, "Reality is unavoidable." The reality of many people's holidays includes too much to do and not enough time, too much to purchase and not enough money, and too much to eat and not enough willpower. On the other hand, some people experience not enough family, fun, and friendship. Fighting against the reality of your life at this moment will only make you bluer. Instead, be kind to yourself, seek support, and laugh at yourself and the world every now and then.
2. Create your own traditions. As families change and grow, traditions change as well. For example, if you are a working woman who had a stay-at-home mother, instead of trying to reproduce the exact old-fashioned holiday of your childhood, do what you can do. As long as you do them with a joyful heart, the meals or decorations or celebrations you create will become your family's cherished rituals. Or if you are divorced, be as harmonious and generous as you can with your ex. It will be the best gift you give to your kids this year. If you are single or far away from your family, invite others into your home and give the words "extended family" new meaning.
3. Help others. Not because you should, but because it is the best antidote to self-pity and seasonal sadness. Find someone who is struggling more than you are, lend them a helping hand, and remember the real meaning of the holidays.
4. Seek sacred space. Drop into a Christian church or Muslim mosque or Jewish synagogue or Hindu temple or . . . you get the idea. Sometimes just sitting in sacred space can remind you of the true meaning of the holidays. Most places of worship welcome all people, even those just looking for a touch of grace in the midst of a stressful day. Instead of hurrying by that church you have passed a hundred times on the way to work, take a moment to enter its doors and sit quietly, imbibing the atmosphere and the prayers of its members.
5. Take care of your own temple: Your body. Eat well, drink a lot of water, exercise, and then be merry. Instead of making one more feeble New Year's resolution to join a gym or take a yoga class, do it right now. You will be amazed at how just the littlest bit of movement will lift your spirits, and how reducing the amount of junk food, sugar, and alcohol you consume will reduce your blues. And sleep-for goodness' sake, do whatever it takes to get enough of it. Sleep deprivation is at the root of many people's depression.
6. Be financially responsible. Don't close your eyes the next time you use your credit card. Overspending during the holidays will not only increase your stress now, but will also leave you feeling anxious for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Buck the holiday system of excessive gift-giving, and practice simplicity, creativity, and basic human kindness.
7. Breathe. Several times during your busy day, put down what you're holding (in your hand or your head)-your shopping lists, your third cup of coffee, your date book, the phone call you should be making-and sit quietly for just 60 seconds. Take in a full breath, let it pool gently in the bottom of your lungs, and then release it slowly. Inhale deeply again, and exhale with an audible sigh. If you're at work, don't worry what your colleagues might think-this time of year everyone would love to sigh deeply, and often. Inhale again; exhale with a long "aaahh". With each exhalation, let your shoulders drop and your jaw relax. Do this a couple of times, with your eyes closed. Let the "aaahh" sound emerge from your belly, move up into your heart, and drift out into space as you exhale, slowly, smoothly, steadily.
8. Grieve. If a friend or family member has recently died honor their memory. Create an altar with pictures of those you love; light candles every night for someone you have lost; play sacred music and allow yourself to cry, remember, heal.
9. Forgive. Forgiveness is the salve that heals a broken spirit. Forgive all sorts of people this holiday season-those from your past, your work, your family, and the ones in the news you love to hate. Read the stories of people (like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Pumla Gobodo Madikizela, of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee) who have used forgiveness to move mountains. If they can do it, so can we.
10. Love... everything. Love it all. From the corny Christmas music to the house guests who won't leave. Love even the hard times; even the cranky and crooked people of the world; even yourself, with all of your imperfections.
IMPORTANT! The advice in this article will help those of us who feel occasional stress and sadness during the holidays. Kenneth Johnson, M.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia St. Mary's in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says, "You don't have to have full-blown depression to experience the holiday blues... But if you have a period of more than two weeks where you have a depressed mood, crying spells, sleep problems, feelings of guilt and thoughts of death or suicide, you probably have a major depression and should seek medical care. You're moving beyond the holiday blues."