The best way to cope with your Scrooge-y feelings? Stop pretending they don't exist

By Krissy Brady

The holiday season is a time to eat, drink, and be merry-or at least, it's supposed to be. But if you're a closeted scrooge who wants to hide under the covers for the next month, you'll probably spend most of it mindlessly nodding along to endless conversations, secretly wondering if you have a defective personality. Truth time: It's not.

"It's not uncommon to have mixed feelings about the holiday season," says Michael Ziffra, M.D., a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. There's this unspoken expectation that not only are you supposed to cram as much holiday cheer into a super-limited amount of time as possible, but you're also supposed to be all joyful and not stressed when you're doing it. Unfortunately, when you're short on time, money, or family members you're on speaking terms with, cheer can quickly become a chore. (Not to mention the political debates that are sure to come up around the dinner table-ugh! Here's how to navigate the political real talk during the holidays.)

How to deal? Be honest with yourself about how you feel, and develop strategies that will give you more control over how you spend your time. That way, not only will you be able to keep holiday dread to a minimum, but you'll also increase the odds of actually enjoying yourself without feeling like a fraud. Try these expert-backed tips on for size:

1. Ditch What You Don't Enjoy

If you can't stand the crowds at shopping malls, buy your gifts online. If visiting family makes you want to hyperventilate into a paper bag, keep those visits as brief as possible (nobody said you had to stay all night, and you can always create an excuse to get out of there). Ziffra says this will free up time in your schedule for the activities you look forward to and don't consider an obligation, which is way more likely to boost your mood. So whether that's decorating, watching Christmas movies, or visiting your grandma, get it on your calendar.

2. Buy Something You've Always Wanted

As much as you love our family, gift buying can get pricey-and leave you feeling as drained as your bank account. To make the experience a little less sucky, add yourself to that gift list, suggests John E. Mayer, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of Family Fit. Set aside some extra dough in the months leading up to Christmas, then buy yourself something that you've always wanted (like those running shoes you've been drooling over at the mall). It's a gentle reminder that the holidays aren't just for showing others you care, but for taking care of yourself too, says Mayer.

3. Balance the Scales

When you have a stressful obligation coming up (cough, cough, in-laws), try a technique called piggybacking: Attach something positive to the stressful obligation-something that will help you power through, says Mayer. For example, pick up a fancy bottle of wine that you can savor during the visit, have a close friend on standby for text-venting, and reward yourself with a post-visit mani-pedi. All of a sudden that to-do just got a whole lot more enjoyable. (Here are three more ways to manage holiday stress and feel more like yourself.)

4. Create an Exit Plan

Exit strategies are critical for any holiday get-togethers that you feel iffy about. "When you receive the invitation or upon your arrival, casually slip into conversations that you have to leave at a certain time because you have another commitment," says Mayer. (Even if that commitment is a date with your sweatpants.) This gives you the option of sticking around if you're having a good time (just tell them you decided to cancel if someone asks you why you're still there), but also sets you up for an easy out if you're not feeling it.

5. Stick to Your Usual Routine

The holidays are frantic and disruptive, but that doesn't mean you have to drink the Crazytown Kool-Aid. "It's important to stick to your usual routines as much as possible," says Ziffra, who recommends keeping your regular sleeping, eating, and exercising patterns intact and planning around them. (Avoid these other holiday diet and fitness mistakes, too.) Being selective about the holiday-related events you attend means more time for R&R, which is pretty much a guaranteed way to actually enjoy yourself this holiday season.


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