Holiday Survival Guide

"If you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family."

- Ram Dass

As the holiday season approaches, many people feel a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement, to anticipation and stress, to exhaustion and depression. The holidays are supposed to be joyful and stress-free, yet according to a recent study, nearly 90% of Americans report feeling stressed during the holidays. Crowds, long lines, spending money, traveling, overeating, seeing certain relatives, mandatory holiday parties and even holiday music are among the things Americans dread most over the holidays, according Consumer Reports National Research Center.  Even reading that list can make us feel tight and tense.  (Deep breath in, and exhale.) The good news - there are many ways to mindfully approach the holidays that will make this holiday season less stressful so you can find more joy and relaxation during this unique time of year.  Here’s how . . .

(1) Don’t do too much.

There is so much pressure (from ourselves and from those around us) during the holidays.  Don’t give in to holiday pressure.  Set limits and realistic goals for yourself.  Know what feels right for you. Make a list and prioritize the activities based on what is most important to you. Maybe attending one more holiday party just isn’t something you want to do.  Know when to say no so you can stay rested, balanced and happy during this busy time of year.

(2) Make Time for Yourself. Be Kind to Yourself.

We all know that we can be our own harshest critic.  Why aren’t I enjoying this more?  Why did I eat so much?  Why am I feeling stressed out when I should be relaxed?  Why do I let this bother me so much?  Our own mental chatter can be exhausting and self-defeating.  Recognize that it is OK to feel stressed, tired, irritable and exhausted, especially during the holidays.  Give yourself a break from all the activity so you can relax and unwind.  It’s OK to take a much-needed walk outside during a party or gathering. Feel free to find a few minutes of solitude and quiet upstairs in your room when you have a house full of guests.  Do what you need to do and listen to your own needs. Recognize that it’s normal and natural to feel whatever you are feeling and, rather than beating yourself up for feeling that way, give yourself the opportunity take a break from the craziness, take a few slow, deep, cleansing breaths and give yourself some much-needed love and kindness this time of year. 

(3) Volunteer

Helping others in need can be a great way to feel good during the holidays.  Each year, my family serves Thanksgiving dinner in the Bronx.  People line up for hours in the cold to receive their heaping platefuls of delicious homemade food.  Their kindness and gratitude always overwhelms me and reminds me how much better it feels to give than to receive this time of year.

(4) Go Outside

Nothing heals quite like the power of nature.  When you are feeling overwhelmed, simply go outside and take a walk. The quiet, fresh air and physical movement are nature's remedies for anxiety and depression. When you do, be in the moment.  Walk mindfully.  Enjoy breathing in the cool air and taking in all the sights and sounds around you. Turn off your ruminating mind by simply enjoying the feeling of your feet on the ground and the physical experience of being outside in nature. As Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, "Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Finally, feel a bit of gratitude for taking this time for yourself and for the quiet beauty you are a part of.

 (5) Dealing with Difficult People

During the holidays we have lots of opportunities to spend time with family and friends. This can be the source of great fun, and it can also be the source of irritation and annoyance.  Complicated relationships and interpersonal history can creep back up, even when we thought it was all in the past, and cause added holiday stress.  Here are a few ways to deal with challenging people in your life, especially when spending time with them over the holidays.

  •  When interacting with a difficult or challenging person, try thinking of three things you never noticed about him or her before. By focusing on something neutral or positive about that person, you can keep a positive mindset and stop from getting stuck in negative thoughts.  


  • When interacting with a difficult or challenging person, try naming one good thing that he or she has done for you.  For example, a difficult parent gave you life or a difficult in-law “gave” you your spouse.  Sometimes finding one thing that person did that has positively affected your life helps keep you away from that negative, judgmental space and fosters gratitude and positivity.  


  • Lower your expectations.  Why should this year be any different?  For some reason, we find ourselves hoping each year that things will be different and that difficult people in our lives will change and treat us with love and kindness, instead of hurtful, thoughtless or unkind words or actions. Yet, when the same old behavior happens, we are caught once again in our feelings of disappointment, anger or sadness.  This year, lower your expectations, and recognize that the same behavior will likely reoccur. In doing so, you will not be disappointed or hurt yet again. Who knows . . . you may be pleasantly surprised?The bottom line - you will no longer allow their behavior to negatively impact your experience if you let go of clinging to those expectations.


  • When interacting with difficult people, keep in mind that they are struggling and trying to find happiness, just like the rest of us, no matter how unskillfully they are acting. In this way, you can foster compassion for them and send them love and kindness instead of criticism. This new way of understanding can help shift your approach and make your interactions with this person radically different.

“Be kind to unkind people.  They need it the most."