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12 Ways to Get Over Your Holiday Humbug Feelings

Is the overwhelming holiday season making you feel like Scrooge? Here’s how to get back in the spirit.

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Recognize if it’s more than just the humbugs

Your holiday blues might have more to do with winter’s lack of light than the festivities. Some people experience seasonal depression disorder when they’re exposed to less sunlight, says Leslie Freedman, PhD, clinical psychologist and family mediator. “The winter holiday season is at the depths of the winter solstice—the shortest days of the year,” he says. “It may have culminated in the sense of holiday blahs but is more about seasonal affective disorder.” If you’ve been feeling more irritable, getting fatigued, or putting on weight since the days started getting shorter, you could be showing symptoms of SAD. Try using a light therapy box to bring back some light into your life—literally and figuratively.

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Don’t get caught up in perfection

You want to try to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, but this is one case when settling is perfectly acceptable. As long as you’ve put a bit of thought, you won’t be disappointing anyone. “You don’t have to have the perfect gift for every individual,” says Dr. Freedman. “You’re wanting to express your thoughtfulness, and that’s going to be conveyed.” Are you too much of a perfectionist?

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Skip commercials

Record TV shows instead of watching them live so you don’t have to suffer through commercials blaring about holiday deals, suggests Kathleen Hall, PhD, DMin, founder and CEO of Mindful Living Network and The Stress Institute. “Retailers have a month to sell these things and then they’re out,” she says. “Shift to compassion that they do what they have to do, but I do what I have to do.” By gently ignoring the pleas to buy, buy, buy, you can slow down and refocus on friends and family. (Don't miss these tips for saving money on holiday shopping.)

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Reconnect with your values

Just because the holiday season has been taken over by commercialism doesn’t mean you have to play into it. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the superficiality, take a step back and remind yourself of the values you should actually be celebrating. “It’s a time of love, of compassion toward those who are less fortunate, a time of connecting with what’s most important to ourselves and our values,” says Dr. Freedman. Try one of these almost effortless ways to be just a little nicer.

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Make it a time of joy, not mourning

If your family is going through a loss, your usual joyful celebrations might be overshadowed by sorrow. To keep spirits bright for the holiday itself, invite your relatives together the day before so you can all share stories about the family member who passed away, suggests Dr. Hall. “Then you can save Thanksgiving dinner for joy and celebration of the people who are alive there,” she says. (Read these things you should never say to a widow.)

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Try something new

New traditions can also help you get past your mourning. Replace ornaments that remind you of your lost loved one with notes with inspirational phrases so you won’t feel sad every time you look at the tree. If your whole family is grieving, you could consider taking a short road trip to distance yourselves, or start a new tradition, like a laid-back Christmas brunch instead of your usual formal turkey dinner. “Celebrate a new place with somebody else,” says Dr. Hall. “Make it collaborative—don’t just do it for yourself.”

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Do volunteer work

If you’re alone for the holidays, surround yourself with other people while you volunteer to prepare holiday meals for others. Not only will you have the chance to socialize, but you’ll also benefit from the warm feelings of offering an act of kindness. “There’s a camaraderie about how we are making a difference in other people’s lives,” says Dr. Freedman. (Don't miss these things food pantries wish you knew.)

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Reframe your dreaded family visits

Do you dread seeing certain family members during your yearly holiday celebrations? In a word: Stop. Instead of assuming your politics-minded brother is going to bring up divisive conversations, give the benefit of the doubt. “Look at the person with fresh eyes,” says Dr. Hall. Going into a conversation expecting the worst will probably bring out your worst, so bring up a safe topic and have a civilized conversation. You’ll be surprised by the connections you can make with the people you thought you could never relate to. Don't miss these signs someone else's stress is dragging you down.

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Have an escape plan

If you foresee your family getting to be too much for you to handle during a get-together, plan out your escape. “When you don’t have a plan and feel in control, you have many more stress hormones released,” says Dr. Hall. She suggests finding three places you love in the house you’re in, whether it’s the gorgeous garden, airy porch, or extra comfy couch. If you feel triggered by a relative, make an excuse about needing to return a phone call and head to one of your safe havens for a breather.

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Make meaningful resolutions

Picture-perfect images of others’ celebrations make it easy to feel inadequate during the holiday season, but you can use those negative feelings as a jumping board to figure out helpful steps that will improve your happiness levels. “The distress that may sort of break through into awareness at holiday time is something they can work on and change,” says Dr. Freedman. Figure out a happiness-related goal that builds on your strengths, rather than just making your usual weight-loss resolution. For instance, steal one of these everyday habits of optimistic people.

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Turn on music

And no, it doesn’t have to be Christmas carols. Listening to music boosts the release of dopamine, a pleasure chemical in your brain. But if the constant holiday tunes are getting on your nerves, block them out with your own favorite songs. “If you’re going shopping, get your playlist and earphones ready because retailers think you love it, and it may set you off,” says Dr. Hall. (Here are more ways classical music improves your health.)

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Prioritize sleep

Between holiday parties, shopping, and cooking, squeezing in a full eight hours of shuteye a night can seem as impossible as flying reindeer. But if you don’t make sleep a priority, don’t be surprised if you turn into a Grinch. “The brain changes because it’s dying for sleep,” says Dr. Hall. “You’re going to get cranky and nasty.” If you can’t get quite enough sleep, at least aim for good sleep, she says. Cool down your bedroom and put on guided imagery recordings as you fall asleep so you can zonk out fast. Are you getting enough deep sleep?

Originally Published in Reader's Digest