How to Thrive – Not Just Survive – During The Holidays

Edit: Click here for an updated take on this blog post and to learn how my perspective on surviving the holidays has changed.


The holidays are coming! Now, be honest… Does that sentence sound like sparkling bells and jazz music when you read it or is it more like a shark fin swimming right at you in the middle of a dark ocean?

For a lot of people, it’s the latter: the impending holiday season can bring up anxiety, overwhelm, depression, and stress (just to name a few). It’s normal to feel burdened just thinking about traveling, cooking, cleaning, shopping, spending, planning, and everything else that holidays can entail. Know that you’re not alone in dreading parts of what is supposed to be a wonderful time of year. I know I’ve spent many holiday seasons overspending, overconsuming, and overextending myself. Add in undersleeping, undernourishing, and underestimating the control I had in my own life, and I found myself actually looking forward to January, which is objectively the worst month of them all. Finally, I decided enough was enough: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired (and bloated and broke and miserable) at the end of every year. Here’s what I did, and what you can do, too, if you’re ready to have a truly happy holiday season:

First, I had a bit of a breakdown.

I don’t recommend this part, but if it’s happening to you, know you’re not alone and you’re not crazy. You’re just maxed out. Get through the breakdown in whatever way causes you the least amount of unnecessary suffering (and therefore likely spares those you love some unnecessary suffering as well), and then move onto the next part as soon as you can. My breakdown was sponsored by shame, fear, and a massive gap between my actions and my values, all of which took professional help and a prescription to heal. PLEASE GET PROFESSIONAL HELP AND/OR A PRESCRIPTION IF YOU NEED TO. There is no shame in using the resources available to us in this time and place of abundance. Hopefully, you’re not totally past your limit yet and you can go ahead and start with step two.

Get outside.

I know this is easier said than done. It’s colder, darker, windier, wetter than we like. Everyone loooooves fall. I know I do. October is the best month of all the months. (Objectively, everyone loves autumn as much as everyone hates January, right?). And yet, somehow, at the end of every year, it gets cold. Go figure. The Scandinavians have a saying: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. This is from a people who send their children to forest school – yes, school OUTSIDE – year round with temperatures regularly staying (not dipping, staying) below zero degrees Fahrenheit. So if they can do it, we can, too, right? And the research is motivating: sun exposure helps stabilize moods and set your internal clock, among many other benefits. So bundle up, walk the dog, walk the kids, walk yourself, just get outdoors every day.

Write in your journal.

To paraphrase the ever-genius Brené Brown, anger and blame are the discharging of pain and discomfort. I don’t know anything more uncomfortable than pure overwhelm, and I’m certain that the most painful experiences of my life were when I ignored my own needs and violated my own values. When you feel overextended, underappreciated, and the pressure is piling up this holiday season, get out your journal and write. Let me be clear: this is NOT the type of journaling you will keep for your grandchildren to read someday. This is not a family heirloom or a historical reference. This is just. for. you. Just for you to discharge that pain and discomfort by saying the things you’d never say in real life. Call that family member that name you’ve had in your head all day. Write about how much you hate them and how selfish they are and how you wish they’d disappear (à la Kevin McCallister). Describe how bratty and ungrateful your kids are, how demanding your boss is, how big a jerk your partner is. How much you hate the holidays and fantasize about running away to a beach by yourself for the rest of the year. And, listen, this part is key: WRITE WITHOUT CENSORING YOURSELF. Get it alllll out. Then, burn it. Or rip it into a hundred tiny pieces. Or put it through your shredder. Or flush it down the toilet. Or all of the above! This one page (or one dozen or one thousand) does not define you and does not reflect who you really are. These pages address one brief experience of pain as well as your ability to healthily process that pain without causing more pain to yourself or others. So pat yourself on the back! Instead of brewing and stewing and allowing the pain to boil over into a massive, out-of-control yelling match over pumpkin pie, you honored it and contained it and didn’t let it run the show. You saw it, witnessed it, and let it go. Good for you.

Wipe the slate clean.

Remind yourself that all the “have-to”s that bounce around in your head are lies. Straight up LIES. You do not have to go to your parents’ for Hanukkah just because you went to your in-law’s last year. You do not have to host Thanksgiving just because you always do. You do not have to bake gingerbread houses from scratch or take your kids to see the newest movie or organize the church holiday party or go to your book club or send cards. You don’t have to do any of it. You get to choose how to spend your holiday season. So wipe the slate clean: no traditions, no commitments, no expectations. Your calendar and your to-do list are empty. You may still choose to do everything you’ve always done, but there will be an important difference: You’ll do it because you want to. The difference between doing what you want and doing what others expect is akin to eating frozen food versus a freshly prepared meal. Even if the outcomes are the same (you pizza either way, you host Thanksgiving either way), the experience is worlds apart. The energy that comes with recognizing that you always have a choice is invigorating and allows you to take ownership of your own holiday experience.

Actively take in the good.

I know this sounds a lot like a cliché… “Look on the bright side!” “There’s always a silver lining!” “There are starving people in China!” (Name that holiday movie.) But notice the word “actively”; this means purposely designing your day-to-day life to both include good and identify the good. For example: read a book that inspires you, listen to a podcast that invigorates you, spend time with people that support you, create something for fun, watch a movie that makes you laugh, listen to music you love. I do all of these things. I don’t do all of them every day but I do several of them every day. The one thing I do every day without fail? Express gratitude. This is the identifying the good part. I write what I’m grateful for in my journal. I pray to God in gratitude. I tell my husband about the book I’m reading or the podcast I listened to or the show I watched. I tell my kids how thankful I am to be their mom. I say ‘thank you’ every chance I get – to the cashier at the grocery store who always draws a smiley face for my toddler on the back of my receipt, to my friends who text to check on my son after he splits his chin open at the park, to my clients who show up in hope and vulnerability to my office every week. There are a thousand ways to express gratitude, what matters is that you find yours and show it.


Can you imagine how the next two months could be if you get some fresh air and sunshine every day? And write in your journal when you were upset and overwhelmed? And choose how and where and with whom to spend your time? And wake up each morning and go to bed each night grateful for the experiences you’re having? What could the new year be like if you spend the next several weeks taking great care of yourself and enjoying your time with family and friends? Could January maybe not be all that bad?

With all the tricks the holidays can play on us, there are so many treats as well. There are endless opportunities to know ourselves and show ourselves. Take what you can from this article and challenge yourself to try one new thing this year, make this year a little bit different, a little bit better than years past. Watch yourself thrive rather than just survive this holiday season.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for reading. Thank you for trying new things. We’re always moving in one direction or another and it is such a honor to be moving in this direction alongside you.

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