As TV shows, social media, movies, and parties hit us with “happiness overload” — a parade of smiling couples (and families) showcasing photos of their seemingly perfect lifestyles and amazing adventures — we don’t have to wallow in loneliness, jealousy, and self-doubt. Instead, we can find opportunities to appreciate who we are and have realistic, positive expectations of where we’re going with these practical ways to experience satisfaction and joy throughout the holidays, regardless of your relationship status or family situation.
5 Ways to Experience Joy Regardless of Your Relationship Status or Family Situation
- Keep a gratitude journal. It is far easier to focus on what’s going wrong than what’s going right in our lives. But when we learn to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for, suddenly our lives seem to be filled with precious gems we can’t believe we overlooked before. You will be able to feel more joy and satisfaction during the holiday season when you take time each day to write down a few things that you’re grateful for. This may be surprisingly difficult at first, but it gets easier the more you do it. Things to be grateful for can be as simple as “a sunny day” or “a hot cup of coffee” or “a conversation with a friend.” The more you practice gratitude, the more you will appreciate your days — and if you keep a journal, you can revisit your entries and see what you’ve enjoyed over time. This is a very rewarding practice that can be especially valuable during the chaotic holiday season.
- Focus on self-care. Making an effort to care about yourself can improve your outlook and self-esteem. Think of ways that you can be kind to yourself and write them down. Items on your list may be as ordinary as practicing regular sleeping and eating habits, or it may be more special, like taking a long bath, getting a pedicure, or going out for a treat that you enjoy. Other items may include making your bed, having lunch with a friend, putting on a nice outfit, going for a brisk walk, or watching a show that you love. Once you have a list of self-care activities, you’ll be able to act on them quickly when you have some time or are beginning to feel lost in the shuffle. Self-care is not “selfish,” which would be focusing only on getting what you want (especially at the expense of others); self-care is the ongoing practice of showing yourself compassion and respect so that you remain healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- Practice mindfulness. You may inevitably find yourself in situations where you are frustrated, tense, or aggravated. When you are caught in a wave of feelings and unable to transition out of the situation, practicing mindfulness will bring you back to the present moment. If seeing happy couples makes you feel lonely, or anxiety tempts you to cope in unhealthy ways, take a minute to reconnect with the room. Inhale deeply and focus on regulating your breathing. Wiggle your toes and feel your fingertips. Carefully observe what you see, hear, and smell. You can break the spell of a negative train of thought when you decide to be mindful in the moment. Practice mindfulness and meditation before you enter into the craziness of the holidays so that you’re ready when the time comes.
- Be intentional about where and how you spend your time (and put fun into your schedule!). When it comes to the holiday season and parties, you are probably very aware of situations and people that are triggers for you. You will not be able to avoid them all, but you can make an effort to spend your time in places where you will not be anxious or have to exercise a lot of willpower. Save your strength for the moments when you will need it most. For example, if you know that you will be tempted to drink heavily at a party, choose an alternative event or make plans to leave early with a friend. If certain family members bring out the worst in you, think of topics of conversation ahead of time, and make sure that you are with others or that you have some easy, polite ways to excuse yourself. Make time for fun that includes people who will support you — and places that are free of triggers, if possible. Create some opportunities you can look forward to so the tough times are easier to bear.
- Decide to embrace discomfort. In the times that you experience uncomfortable feelings, such as loneliness, sadness, anger, or jealousy, and you feel like you’re going to be overpowered by them — even though you’ve employed all the tips above — you can decide to embrace the discomfort. The truth is, your feelings are not stronger than you are. Even in your worst moments, you are still in charge. When you choose to embrace and accept your feelings, they lose their power over you. Even better, you realize that you have more control over your emotions than you once believed. Learning to be OK with being uncomfortable is hard, but it’s a very valuable skill. With practice, you will gain extraordinary confidence that you never knew you had.
Look to friends, your therapist, or a trusted community to help you with these tips. When you get stuck on something, have a brief venting session with a friend and then finish with a gratitude exercise. Place quotes that inspire you in places where you’ll see them. Set a reminder on your phone for certain times each day that tells you, “Take a deep breath.” These small things add up to better experiences and increased resilience. If you fail at some point, don’t punish yourself. Talk to a safe individual and focus on ways to respond better next time. Staying healthy mentally and emotionally is an active process that involves letting off steam, not giving anything a chance to fester, and allowing the trusted people into your circle to help you.
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