The Anti-Hallmark Guide to Holiday Survival & Self-Care

Brittany is going skiing with her family in Park City, Utah. Jessica is baking cookies with her mom and sister. Tom is flying first class to Mexico, where he’ll be spending the holidays stretched out across the beach. Everywhere you turn—at the coffee shop, in the park, on the crowded city streets—there are lovers dressed in their cozy Christmas sweaters, clutching their lattes, and leaning in for a sexy embrace. It may feel like mistletoe is hanging everywhere, with no one to stand under it with.

Shopping bags abound in the crowded malls. There is the obnoxious ding of the cash register and the receipts growing by the mile, but none of them are yours. Or maybe all of them are yours, but even the most indulgent purchases aren’t serving to help you anchor the jolly. You keep trying with all of your might, but the jolly isn’t getting the memo. In fact, most days you can’t even seem to find a decent parking spot.

So often we develop this whimsical, Hallmark ideal about what it means to immerse ourselves in the holiday season. There are visions of painted towns, of friends giggling and snapping silly photos as they string lights around the Christmas tree, of sliding on that party dress and heels for a sexy New Year’s Eve. But every person experiences the season in a different way, and for many, it conjures up disappointments and—at worst—an avalanche of pain. Some people have never experienced the kind of holiday season we often see portrayed on social media or in our most celebrated Hollywood productions.

The things we are able to bury away all year long often come to the light as our neighborhoods are drenched in dazzle.  Some people think about loved ones lost, or failed marriages and relationships, or the career they feel trapped inside of, or the money they don’t have to spend on their children. Perhaps there is shame when recalling the resolutions still not realized as the year’s final curtain prepares to close. 

Although Hallmark movies hold their place in some of our holiday indulgences, you won’t find any of its offerings here—no tales of sappy reunions, serendipitous encounters or lovers trapped in fake snowy blizzards. Real life is not like the movies, so ahead are real and useful ways to create beauty and possibility this season, while caring for yourself most of all.

#1 Be a Decorating Rebel

You don’t have to decorate an Instagram-worthy tree, or put out that Christmas village or stuffed snowmen just because it’s what you’ve always done. Ask yourself: What do I really jive with right now? Maybe you just want to hang a wreath on your door or fill a shelf with gold candles, and ceramic angels, and glittery pine cones.

If you have a family or roommate you share a space with, perhaps find one room or one corner of your home that is all yours—where you can be as unapologetically “you” as you dare to be.

#2 Craft a Menu Filled With Foods for Your Soul

Most times call for eating your fruits and vegetables, but other times call for dining on foods that are good for your soul. Think about the buttery popcorn that reminds you of curling up and watching old black and white reruns with your grandfather, or the caramel brownies like the ones your favorite babysitter once made. These foods speak to your happiest senses and your safest memories. This holiday season, they must be included in your self-care festivities.

#3 Make a Smashing Playlist for Your Ears Only

Researchers have pondered the connection between music and our emotions for centuries, and it has been determined to transcend a mere aural experience. Certain types of music stimulate the release of oxytocin, our most comforting love hormone.

So, this holiday season, explore tunes that seem to have been written from a dimension of inspiration—a place where dreams are always possible. Consider classics from Billie Holiday, Etta James, Sam Cooke, and Bill Withers—just to name a few. Make sure each one resonates with the parts of yourself that feel enchanted, hopeful and optimistic.

#4 Unplug From the Social Media Pageant

Brittany may be packing for her ski trip and Jessica may be pouring chocolate chips into the cookie dough, and they may both look crushingly adorable in every frame as they document it for their SnapChat stories, but remember you’re not getting the complete picture. No one’s life is SnapChat-worthy every minute of the day.

If you cannot refrain from comparing the state of your life with the social media stages of your friends, go ahead and unplug from the pageant for a bit. It’s not worth making you feel like shit.

#5 Know When It’s Time to Say, “Hell No!”

We all have people in our lives who we lend a hand to, and who then expect both of our arms, legs and all of our generosity. This holiday season, boundaries are essential if you want to hang onto your sanity.

If you’re exhausted from your work presentation, or inundated with your kids’ fundraisers and school activities, or if your heart is simply in need of some TLC, you must learn to ration out your time. Say “yes” to the things that feel right, but respectfully decline the things that add to your junk pile of stress. This includes saying “no” to the phone call that asks to swallow up your entire evening—the time you need to wrap that closet full of presents or maybe just unwind with a glass of wine and a couch hang with your dog.

#6 Set Boundaries With Those Nosey Family Members

Holiday gatherings often roll out the opportunities to engage with family members you may not speak to any other time of year. This means you should prepare yourself to be hit with invasive questions about your career, your love life, your children (or lack thereof), your plans for the future—so many of the discomforting topics you may still be figuring out.

Here’s a new mindset to adopt: Whether asked in a spirit of good intentions or not, you do not owe anyone an update about anything you do or do not have—especially not someone you only see once or twice a year. If someone asks, “How’s your love life going?” instead of doling out the dirt, respond by asking them, “I don’t know, how’s yours?”

If at anytime you feel someone is pushing up against your personal boundaries with prying questions, simply push right back and make it clear that you won’t be parting ways with the goods—calmly, respectfully and with heaping spoonfuls of jolly, of course.

#7 Write Those Goodbye Letters

All of those things you held onto in 2018 that kept you shackled? It’s time to bid your farewell to them. Maybe it’s your habit of overspending on shoes, or your obsession with a certain person who has never reciprocated your affections, or a bitter vendetta you’ve held against that family member who wronged you. Whether a person, an emotion or a pattern, give it a name and tell it goodbye. Get all of your disappointment, and rage, and regret onto the page and feel it leave your body as the ties are severed.

#8 Make Those Lists & Chart Your Next Path

In an article published by U.S. News in 2015, it was reported that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by Valentine’s Day. Rather than letting that fill you with thoughts of, “Well, what then is the point?” experiment with a strategy you’ve never considered before.

Make a list of all of the things you intended to achieve this year, then divide them into two separate lists: one that houses all of the things you completed, and another that houses all that you fell short of completing.

Next, study the first list and make a statement congratulating yourself on each of those accomplishments. High-five yourself—maybe even make a toast to your own bloody awesomeness. Then, dissect the second list, sans judgment and self-loathing. Write out how you may shake hands with each of them in a different way in the coming year. Introduce yourself to each of the tasks, being honest about where you’re at and where you plan to be, and begin to see them as friends instead of daunting strangers. Dream up clever, inventive and playful modes of mingling with those goals in the New Year. Let the inspirations come to you and dazzle you. Let the possibility of it all make your toes tingle.

#9 Remember That You’re Not Alone

Everybody’s life sucks sometimes. If you’re over the age of a kindergartner, you likely have at least one undesirable holiday season in your memory pile. Remember that you’re far from alone, even if depression or insecurity tries to convince you that you’re isolated in your state of boredom or unhappiness.

It’s OK to feel like you’re standing on the outside looking in at the party, staring into your own lonely reflection. But it may be far from the truth. Take a chance on being honest with a friend or mentor about how you’re feeling; you may be surprised how far from alone you actually are.

Lacey Johnson

Madam Wonder: Founding Editor

Lacey Johnson is an award-winning editor, essayist and journalist who earned her degree from Belmont University in 2011. She has worked with a broad range of celebrities and entrepreneurs — including the likes of Betsey Johnson, Deepak Chopra, Shark Tank's Daymond John and Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson. She is editor-in-chief for The Connect magazine, and her work can be read in a variety of print and digital media sources including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Mirabella, PopSugar, and others. With a deep intrigue for human beings, and fiery passion for smacking her readers in the face with the truth, she writes and reports boldly about topics that challenge the status quo — in the realms of love and relationships, popular culture, travel, spirituality, women’s issues and the nuances of a fulfilling life. She is also deep in the process of co-authoring her first book, which is a gutsy exploration of the illusions of fame, power and success, told through narratives involving some of the people the world most idolizes.

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