What to do if your festive season ISN’T the ‘most wonderful time of the year’

It’s the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, there’s ‘parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and carolling out in the snow’ – or that’s at least how the popular Christmas song sells it.

But for some, the festive season isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and is instead filled with anxiety, social exhaustion and money woes – while others see it as a grim reminder of loss, separation or grief.  

Thankfully, a psychologist has shared how to find some solace during the winter period, and feel more grounded and secure.

Here, Dr Carmen Harra, American author of Committed: Finding Love and Loyalty Through the Seven Archetypes, tells FEMAIL how to thrive during the holidays… 

Expert Dr Carmen Harra has revealed how to cope with the festive season if you’re finding the holidays difficult (stock photo)


Dr Carmen said: ‘This isn’t only a season to give to others, but to yourself, too! Do one thing each day leading up to Christmas that makes you content. 


‘Enjoy the process,’ insisted Dr Carmen. ‘Some people count down to Christmas Day as though it were Armageddon. 

‘Learn to view December 25 as a holiday, not a deadline; we sometimes forget that the time leading up to Christmas is supposed to be a journey of self-reflection, acceptance, and forgiveness. 

‘Despite unpleasant side-effects like increased traffic and expectations, your perception is ultimately what makes Christmas mentally easier to handle. 

‘Take it one day at a time and plan your days around what you wish to do.

‘Choosing to focus on making the most of each day leading up to Christmas will change your mindset from apprehension to inspiration.’

Instead, she explained how you could even consider skipping a year. 

She said: ‘If you find that the extra stress and activities of the holiday season seriously start to interfere with your wellbeing, take a year off.’ 

‘Politely say no to joining different festivities with friends and family and plan something special for yourself instead. 

‘For instance, you can book a trip to the Caribbean with your partner or a friend (or even by yourself!), away from the holiday hustle and bustle, and concentrate on enjoying the moment. 

‘If your loved ones don’t approve of this plan, remind them in a nice way that this is what you feel is best for you. Simply tell them you’re taking a year off and focus instead on your mental health.

‘For the majority of people, Christmas isn’t the ideal holiday it’s made out to be.

‘But there are steps we can take to make this time less demanding and more cheerful so as to rediscover the true meaning of the season.’

‘Whether it’s a day at the spa, a small present to yourself, a good workout session, or rewatching your favourite movies, centre every day around an activity that makes you smile. 

‘Buy a calendar and write down “today, I will _” on each day leading up to Christmas. Fill in the blank with an action that brings you joy and excitement. 

‘Try to treat yourself with more patience and gentleness. Showing such virtues to yourself will not only make the holidays easier to tolerate, they will make you an overall better, wiser person as well.’


‘Much of the unease that accompanies Christmas is caused by feeling forced to attend social gatherings and family get-togethers,’ explained the psychologist.

‘You may not always look forward to such events, especially if you suffer from social anxiety or consider your family to be less than functional. 

‘The best way to find a happy medium between feeling comfortable and fulfilling your obligations is to set realistic limits for yourself: put your best face on and make an appearance at the gathering but excuse yourself after an hour or two. 

‘Don’t feel guilty about leaving early or staying for only half of the party – you should be proud of yourself for making the effort to go in the first place. 

‘Chances are that once you’re actually at the celebration, the dread will diminish and you’ll feel relaxed and be able to enjoy yourself. 

‘This should reduce your nervousness about future events, but you should still set healthy boundaries for yourself around this time of the year and take things at your own pace.’


‘Being around people who make you feel good can enhance your mood and increase your lifespan. This is because being in good company can rearrange your brain chemistry and teach you to adopt a more positive attitude,’ Dr Carmen said.

‘Laughter is essential, but it must be shared with those you love. Get together with people who share your mentality and uplift you. 

‘We can learn so much from each other by sharing the lessons life has taught us. Plato believed that the ultimate truth can be reached through dialogue, and you’ll be surprised at the truths you can discover just by listening to the experiences of others.’


Dr Carmen said: ‘No matter how chaotic this time of the year becomes, you must remember that stress causes serious harm to body and mind. The effects of stress include autoimmune disorders and digestive problems. 


‘The holidays are a prime time to build up motivation and formulate a course of action for your wishes and dreams,’ explained the expert. 

‘Take out a piece of paper (don’t use your phone) and handwrite the things you’d most like to make come true within the next year. 

‘Try to pinpoint practical actions you can take to manifest these ambitions. 

‘Also ask yourself whether these aims serve your higher self, not only your ego, and if they are beneficial in the long run. 

‘There is no better gift you can give yourself for Christmas than setting your goals in motion for your future.’

‘Remove unnecessary complications and reintroduce peace into your life, for no one’s sake but your own. 

‘There are simple but powerful exercises for inner harmony when you feel anxious or overwhelmed, like taking a short break from the source of your pressures, whether that’s a person or your environment. 

‘Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths for a few minutes. Retreat to a safe place in your mind, like a pleasant memory or a visualization that relaxes you. 

‘Start your day with empowering affirmations like, “Today, I am calm, I am at peace, and I am in control,” which subdue stress and help you to practice emotional discipline.’


‘One of the major factors in successfully making it through Christmas is learning to both control and release your emotions,’ insisted the psychologist. 

‘Certain memories may make this a dismal time of the year for you, but hoarding emotions within you will only cause you to feel worse. 

‘Let your feelings come in, reflect on them, then, if they’re negative in nature, usher them out. 

‘Allow yourself to cry, for example, but time your sessions. You can tell yourself that you’re going take a thirty-minute walk during which you’ll examine your feelings, but when your walk has ended, so must your tears. 

‘Or, you can write in your journal and transfer your plethora of emotions onto the paper, then disengage from the heavy feelings once you shut the book. 

‘On the other hand, I encourage you to concede to contentment, even over the smallest things, and acknowledge the infinite reasons you have to be happy in this very moment.’


The psychologist explained: ‘Finding healthy ways to reduce stress during the holidays includes maintaining good relationships with the people around you. 


‘Performing acts of kindness, especially around this time of the year, will activate feel-good hormones in your brain and increase a sense of self-reward,; Dr Carmen revealed. 

‘You can elevate your state of mind and pull through a difficult situation by shifting your focus from “me” to “we.” 

‘Allowing yourself to connect with others and offering help in minor but significant ways can remind you that your situation might not be so bad after all. 

‘Especially when you feel down, a selfless act can put things in a greater perspective and emphasize just how much you have to be thankful for.’

‘If one of your relatives is pushing your buttons, simply excuse yourself and go into another room. When tempers flare, instead of retaliating by yelling and accusing your loved one, take a step back and ask for some time alone. 

‘Take an hour or a day to regroup and return to a more stable state of mind, then have a calm and rational conversation about the disagreement. Express your intentions to resolve the problem. 

‘Never make insults in the heat of the moment or say mean things that you can’t take back or cause irreparable harm. 

‘Do your best to see it from the other person’s point of view and explain yourself in ways they can understand and relate to. 

‘Try not to blame the people around you for things that aren’t necessarily their fault or small mistakes that are negligible in the bigger scheme of things.’

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