how to survive holidaysThe holiday season can be depressing if you are feeling alone or dispirited and everyone else seems joyous and happy. But like you, many others have no friends or family nearby, or feel disconnected or estranged from the people around them—or else I wouldn’t be writing this post!

Family ties, like friendships, are often imperfect. People tend to disappoint each other—especially under stress, and when expectations run as high as they do at this time of year. And what appears enviable on the outside may not be as appealing if you were able to peel off the layers and peek inside.

Keep things in perspective. The decorations will come down, stores will soon start preparing for President’s Day, and it will be back to business as usual before you know it. While no advice can take away pain, if you’re feeling down, I hope that at least one of these 14 crowd-sourced ideas will resonate with you and help you over the holiday hump:

1) Start a new project 

It can be something that can be done in a few hours (organizing that messy hall closet or cleaning an appliance), or maybe one that’ll take several months to complete, like slowly learning a new language online for free. See Whether or not you even finish the project, there’s no better feeling than the anticipation of starting something new that excites you.

2) Lighten your load

Get rid of things you don’t need that might be “gifts” to others. Gather clothes and household objects you no longer use or need and arrange for a pickup by an organization like Goodwill or Purple Heart. Giving and de-cluttering are both feel-good activities.

3) Have a song in your heart?

On Christmas or New Year’s Day, turn on a radio or other device to play seasonal music and then sing along as loud as you can. There’s no wrong way to sing a Christmas carol or Auld Lang Syne (or even Elvis’ Blue Christmas). You’ll be smiling before you know it!

4) Compose a gratitude list 

Aim for a gratitude list that includes at least ten things and share it with someone. You’ll get the double benefit: Realizing you have things to be grateful for and making someone else’s day when they receive your surprise note.

5) Plan a movie excursion

Take yourself out to the year’s Big Movie on Christmas or New Year’s Day. There are always new releases over the holidays and theaters tend to be less crowded. Don’t feel self-conscious about going by yourself. Just bring a magazine or e-reader to keep occupied before the movie starts. Once the movie is over, turn to the person next to you and make a positive remark. It’s nice to connect with someone over a shared experience.

6) Attend a Blue Christmas service 

For more than a decade, churches around the nation have been scheduling Blue Christmas services on the day with the least amount of light; this year, the winter solstice falls on Saturday, December 21. The services are often somber and ecumenical, using candles to acknowledge that many are experiencing pain, loneliness, or grief. You can google the term “Blue Christmas Services” to see if any are being held in your community.

7) Binge 

Is there a TV series that you’ve missed that everyone else is talking about: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black? Figure out a way to get the series from Netflix or your cable provider and watch consecutive episodes over the course of several days. Doing so will also have the benefit of providing you with conversation fodder for connecting with people after the holidays.

8) Dig into a book 

You’re never alone when reading. Pick out a new book or a cherished favorite at your library or local bookstore. Brew a cup of your favorite beverage and set aside some hours to get lost in a good story. Here’s a compiled list of the Best of the Best Books of 2013. You can find the best books in your favorite genre just by Googling. I just started reading The Goldfinch. Weighing in at 784 pages, the gripping novel can keep someone engaged through the New Year.

9) Write it down 

Writing is a creative pastime, and it’s been said that everyone has a book in them. But if the thought of writing a whole book is too daunting, why not start with a poem? There are dozens of blogs and books about how to get started, including this easy “12 Ways to Write a Poem” from Oprah Magazine. There’s something nice about the freedom of a poem, and thinking in images and metaphors takes you away from you the blahs of a boring or lonely day. If you aren’t into poetry, take the time to write a thoughtful response to one of the reader posts on this blog.

10) Plan time in the kitchen

Have a yen for cooking? Browse through recipe books or recipes online, and stock up on the ingredients you need to prepare a favorite dish, dessert or meal. If you don’t like to cook, it’s a great day to go to a Chinese restaurant.

11) Get active 

Don’t feel like you need to be a prisoner in your own home. Get outside, take a walk and breathe the fresh air. Maybe you will be lucky enough to catch a few rays of sun. Brisk physical activity can buoy your spirits. If you like to ski, the slopes are often empty on Christmas morning.

12) Volunteer to help someone else

Check into opportunities in your community to help people who are worse off than you but don’t wait until the very last minute. Is there a shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry in your community that needs help over the holidays? Check with Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Union Gospel Mission, or with local religious organizations, police or fire departments.

13) Find someone else who will be alone, too. 

Craving company? Surely, there’s a colleague at work or neighbor who is likely to be spending time alone too. Perhaps you could plan to do something together. You can check out (searchable by zip code) to see if any other people are planning activities during the holidays.

14) More than down in the dumps? 

The holidays can be especially difficult if you are suffering from depression or getting over a loss. If you are really having a hard time, reach out for help. If you don’t want to burden people you know, a free 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) is available to people in crisis at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Calls are routed to local crisis centers. In the UK or Ireland, Samaritans offers confidential support at 08457 90 90 90. (More than 227,000 people called the Samaritans hotline last Christmas Day.)

And if you are lucky…

If you aren’t the one feeling blue over the holidays but know someone else who is likely to be feeling that way, be sensitive and don’t overdo the merriment and good cheer.

Figure out which friends, relatives, or neighbors you can help and what you can do. Sometimes even a “Hi, I’m thinking of you” phone call reminds someone they aren’t alone and are being thought about. It may be all they need to get over this holiday hump.

Wishing each of you all good wishes for the coming year!

Best, Irene

Special thanks to the crowd of people who helped me come up with all these great ideas: Laura Kelly, Sheryl Kraft, Susan Campbell, Lori Tripoli, Amy Feld, Jackie Humphries Smith, Angela Oddone, Andrea Marcusa, Linda Ligenza, Connie McLeod, Mindy Klapper Trotta, and Jane Gross

Do the holidays make you feel sad? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?


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