1. Be Realistic
As a friend of mine says, "Reality is unavoidable." The reality of many people's holidays includes too much to do and not enough time, too much to purchase and not enough money and too much to eat and not enough willpower. On the other hand, some people experience not enough family, fun and friendship. Fighting against the reality of your life at this moment will only make you bluer. Instead, be kind to yourself, laugh at yourself every now and then, seek support and vow to make some changes during a less stressful time of year.
2. Work with What You Have
As families change and grow, traditions will change as well. For example, if you are a working woman who had a stay-at-home mother, instead of trying to reproduce the exact old-fashioned holiday of your childhood, infuse what you can do with meaning, beauty and love. Or if you are divorced, share the holidays with your ex with as much generosity and harmony as you can conjure up. It will be the best gift you give to your kids this year. If you are single or far away from your family, invite others into your home and give the words "extended family" new meaning.
3. Help Others
Help others not because you should, but because it is the best antidote to self-pity and seasonal sadness. Find someone who is struggling more than you are, lend them a helping hand, and remember the real meaning of the holidays.
4. Stop by a Place of Worship
Drop into a Christian church or Muslim mosque or Jewish synagogue or Hindu template or...you get the idea. Sometimes just sitting in sacred space can remind you of the true meaning of the holidays. Most places of worship welcome all people, even those just looking for a touch of grace in the midst of a stressful day. Instead of hurrying by that church you have passed a hundred times on the way to work, take a moment to enter its doors and sit quietly, imbibing the atmosphere and the prayers of its members.
5. Take Care of Your Own Temple—Your Body
Eat well, drink a lot of water, exercise and then be merry. Instead of making one more feeble New Year's resolution to join a gym or take a yoga class, do it right now. You will be amazed at how just the littlest bit of movement will lift your spirits and how reducing the amount of junk food, sugar and alcohol will reduce your blues. And sleep—for goodness' sake, do whatever it takes to get enough of it. Sleep deprivation is at the root of many people's depression.
6. Be Financially Responsible
Don't close your eyes the next time you use your credit card. Overspending during the holidays will not only increase your stress now, but will leave you feeling anxious for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Buck the holiday system of excessive gift-giving and practice simplicity, creativity and basic human kindness.
If a friend or family member has recently died or if you're far away from home, practice the lost art of grieving. Create an altar with pictures of those you love; light candles every night for someone you have lost; play sacred music and allow yourself to cry, remember, heal.
Forgiveness is the slave that heals a broken spirit. Forgive all sorts of people this holiday season—those from your past, your work, your family and the ones in the news whom you love to hate. Read the stories of people (like Martin Luther King Jr. or Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee) who have used forgiveness to move mountains. If they can do it, so can we.
Everything. Love it all. Even the hard times; even the cranky and crooked people of the world; even yourself, with all of your appalling shortcomings.
10. Seek Professional Help If You Need It
The advice in this article will help those of us who feel occasional stress and sadness during the holidays. Dr. Kenneth Johnson, a psychiatrist at Columbia St. Mary's in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says: "You don't have to have full-blown depression to experience the holiday blues. … But if you have a period of more than two weeks where you have a depressed mood, crying spells, sleep problems, feelings of guilt and thoughts of death or suicide, you probably have a major depression and should seek medical care. You're moving beyond the holiday blues.