Intersection of Life and Faith

12 Ways to Have an Emotionally Healthy Holiday

  • Nicole Zasowski Author
  • 2019 18 Nov
12 Ways to Have an Emotionally Healthy Holiday

The holidays carry so many opportunities to gather together, celebrate the birth of our Savior and connect with loved ones. Some of these merry moments are grand and festive, while others are subtle and sacred. Yet, despite the ready-made joy that the holidays offer, many of us are allowing the frenzy to shift our focus from what matters. Some of us are tempted to let old wounds shape our interactions in the present. And others lose the miracle of Jesus’ presence amongst expectations and to-do lists. But what would it look like to reclaim the sacredness of the season? How can we maintain emotional health in a season that can threaten to steal our peace and connection to others?

1. Choose Worship over Worry

The holiday season can place a magnifying glass on our heart’s troubles. Worry is our brain’s way of trying to control things outside of our control. But when we worry, we give ourselves the message that our lives are up to us and that both our significance and security hinge on the outcome. Worry keeps us staring at our feet, focused on our own limitations and abilities. But worship fixes our eyes and hearts on God. Here, we remember that we are safe in His economy and we are set apart as His. We acknowledge His power and glory. When we remember who He is and what He has done, we find that our worry can’t survive our worship. 

2. Embrace Growth

It’s okay to change. Seeing loved ones over the holidays can be accompanied by pressure to be the person that you think they want you to be. Whether or not this is actually true, the feelings can whisper lies that our identity is tied to labels that no longer fit. Rather than trying to squeeze ourselves into ill-fitting molds, we are wise to embrace our growth and be secure in the ways we’ve evolved over the years, trusting that who we are now is just as lovable as who we were then. 

3. Be Where You Are

With the holiday season comes choices about how we spend our time and with whom we spend it with. When we make a choice, it can be tempting to use every get-together or coffee date wondering if we should be somewhere else. And then, of course, we miss the gift of being with whomever we are with. One of the best presents we can give ourselves and others is the gift of being present.

4. Get Clear on What You Don’t Do

Having healthy boundaries means knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” While not everyone experiences this as challenging, many of us have difficulty knowing when to say, “no.” Often, this is because we are haunted by the word, “should.” We carry expectations about what we should be doing during the holiday season to make the season special for our loved ones or to carry on the tradition. Instead of focusing on what we need to do, it can be helpful to articulate the things we don’t do. It used to be important to me to handwrite all of the addresses for my Christmas cards. There was just something that felt more personal about a hand-addressed card. But in this season, I have to let that go and decide that handwritten cards now belong on the list of things I no longer do. This is just one small example and there are many others. But it can be so freeing to make a list of things that are not life-giving and may be taking time from the events or relationships that do matter to you.

5. Make Others Feel Special

Someone once told me that there are two mentalities you can bring to a party. You can have a “look at me” mentality. Or, you can have a “there you are” mentality. Insecurity pulls us into ourselves, making it difficult to experience genuine connection with others. But being confident in our own significance leads us to help others to be confident in their own. Talking to people in a way that makes them feel like they are the only person in the room is the best way to work a room.

6. Embrace Advent

For some of us, the sparkle and celebration of Christmas may be difficult to connect with this year. The holidays can surface all kinds of feelings – even feelings that mostly lie dormant the rest of the year. For some of us, the season can bring grief, reminding us of loved ones that have passed. Others are reminded of what they wish was or what may never be. Advent graciously reminds us that our suffering leads us to a Savior. The best gift God has given us is Himself. On Christmas, we celebrate the presence and Person of Christ drawing near to whatever feelings we may carry. The birth of Jesus brought the Good News that our hope is not in our ability to climb closer to His favor, but about Christ stooping to our brokenness. 

7. Watch Out for the Ruts

When we feel emotional pain, we typically feel the same two or three feelings every time. When these feelings get triggered, we tend to utilize the same coping behaviors. The problem is that these behaviors that were likely once necessary and still understandable, are not helpful. Sometimes it is the most familiar relationships that bring these familiar patterns to the surface. Being aware of what our unique feeling and coping patterns are from the past is the first step to doing something different in the present and future. 

8. Don’t Abandon the Routine . . . Completely

The holidays offer a perfect opportunity to break from our routine – to rest and enjoy time with loved ones. But sometimes we can find ourselves living in extremes. We are rigid in routines and push ourselves, struggling to find the time or reason to rest. And then when it comes time to rest and enjoy, we abandon all routine and structure. But the reality is that our choices and rhythms around rest and how we fuel our bodies can have a profound impact on how we feel emotionally. Life usually works best when we can keep a little routine in our rest and keep a little rest in our routine. Rather than living in extremes, we are wise to maintain more balance all year round. 

9. Get Outside

When we moved from California (a place that stays relatively warm all year round) to Connecticut (a place that gets very cold in the winter), the temptation was to stay inside where it’s nice and warm and cozy. I quickly realized that the short-term gratification of being warm doesn’t compare the benefits of getting fresh air. Getting outside and moving gives us perspective and a clear head to re-engage with our routine and responsibilities. Why waste the whole season indoors? Winter is what you make it! 

10. Serve

Few things grow us or bless us more than serving others. God breaks our hearts for different things and the holiday season is the perfect time to pay attention to how He is leading you to give your time, talent, and treasure away. Loving others by serving them is a tangible reminder of the way that God sees and loves each of us. A life poured out is a life well-lived. The same is true for our holiday season.

11. Be Honest about Expectations

Holidays are loaded with expectations that often go unspoken. It’s easy to carry these expectations while wishing (and expecting) that others are able to accurately guess what they are. We might have some luck with this strategy, but most often we will be left disappointed and frustrated by the people we love most and most likely mean well and are trying their best. Instead, it’s best to voice our concerns and desires directly and invite others to do the same!

12. Give Gifts That Cultivate Connection All Year Long

One of things my family has decided to do this Christmas is to give experiential gifts. None of us are opposed to physical presents per se, but there is something special about giving and receiving gifts that give us something to enjoy together later on in the year. God created us for connection and relationships are one of His best gifts to us. Giving gifts that give to the other person and to the relationship is a win-win! 

Going into the holiday season, your heart might crave more money to buy more gifts to fit under the tree and more time to fit in more holiday events. But the kind of abundance Jesus desires for us is not more of the joy that we would add to our wish lists but a different joy entirely. Jesus didn’t come to simply give us more of what we want; He came to give us something different: Himself. We can find peace for the season in Him.

Nicole Zasowski is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “From Lost to Found.” She is based in the state of Connecticut where she lives with her husband and two sons. As an old soul who wears her heart proudly on her sleeve, Nicole loves using her words to help others find an enduring peace and joy outside of circumstance. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Mkovalevskaya

This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What is Christmas? Understanding History, Origin and Traditions

Christmas Eve History and Traditions

The History of Santa Claus: Origin of St. Nicholas & Christmas Traditions

When Was Jesus Born? History of December 25th

Where Was Jesus Born? 5 Things to Know about Bethlehem

The Birth of Jesus: Bible Story and Scripture Verses

Why Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh Were Given to Baby Jesus

What is Advent: Definition & Meaning Behind Christmas Tradition

Advent Wreath & Candles - Understanding the History, Meaning, and Tradition

The History and Meaning of the Advent Calendar

Christmas Bible Verses & Scripture Story

Christmas Prayers