December is often hailed as the happiest time of the year, but it doesn’t feel that way for many. The holidays can be fun, but they can also add lots of pressure to already busy schedules and strained bank accounts. In addition, they fall during a dark, cold time when many people are struggling with seasonal depression. Your holiday plans for 2020 probably look different than usual, and for some, this can be disappointing. If you aren’t feeling merry, you’re not alone, but there are ways to fight the blues and enjoy the holidays this year. Here are four steps to try:

1. Take a Look at Your Overall Health

Many things can cause depression, but for about 10 million Americans, seasonal depression comes on every year, regardless of what else is going on in their lives. If you feel like this describes you, you should consider talking with your health care provider. There are several effective treatments available for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), including light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication. You may find that once you’ve treated your seasonal depression, the holidays become much more enjoyable. 

Other people suffer from a more acute type of holiday depression, often brought on by the stress of too many commitments or big life changes that have affected their traditions. 

No matter which type of depression you think you’re dealing with, prioritizing your health can help. Exercise is a great stress reliever and antidepressant. Even ten minutes of taking a brisk walk or doing an at-home workout can make a positive difference. If you have health problems like aches and pains that tend to act up more in the winter, a chiropractor can help you feel better. It’s easier to be jolly if you are feeling well and pain-free. 

The holidays can be a hard time to watch your diet, but avoiding excess alcohol consumption, sweet treats, and fatty foods will keep your mood from dipping further. Try to consume these things in moderation and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Remember that when you nourish your body, you are also nourishing your brain. Many people find that taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter can boost their mood, especially if they suffer from SAD.

2. Try to Be Flexible

This tip is more important than ever this year. We often expect holiday traditions to look the same year after year, and changes in those plans can lead to disappointment and even depression. Adopting a more flexible attitude can minimize stress and help you enjoy your holidays, even when they look different than usual. 

One way to do this is to find the bright side. For instance, you may be disappointed that you aren’t having the big family party this year, but that will leave you extra time to do some baking or holiday crafts that you usually aren’t up for. This year can be an opportunity for families and individuals to form their own holiday traditions that aren’t dependent on the extended family. You might even want to keep some of these new traditions after things get back to normal. 

It can be helpful to make a list of your favorite things about the holiday season. Then see if you can accomplish some of those things in a different way, or simply accept that you can have some of the things on that list, but not all of them, each year. Focusing on what you can do instead of what you can’t do can bring some joy back into your holiday season.

3. Pare Back Your Plans

If you find that you are enjoying the scaled back 2020 version of the holidays more than you’ve enjoyed other years, this could be a sign that you are overloading yourself during the holidays. Many people feel pressured to do it all: buy gifts for everyone, decorate, bake, host parties, attend parties, Phew! It can be exhausting, especially if you are doing these things around a full-time work schedule.  

Again, making a list can be helpful. Write down the things you absolutely have to do for the holidays to feel properly celebrated. This list might include things like buying toys for the kids, making Christmas Eve dinner, and making your grandmother’s fudge recipe. You will probably find that there are other activities that you could leave off and not really miss. Try experimenting with different traditions. Maybe trade-off years going to your family and to your in-laws instead of trying to attend both in one day. Or do less baking or more online shopping. See how it feels. You can always change things up the next year until you find the balance that works for you. This is where being flexible comes in again. You may find that less is more when it comes to the holidays.

4. Focus on Self-Care

Often, the holiday blues are caused by a major trauma or life-change. The first several holiday seasons after a loved one passes are especially hard for most people. This can also be true of holidays after a divorce or a break-up. Life changes like these can make it impossible to feel in the “holiday spirit,” and it can be tough to see others around you feeling joyful. 

In these situations, it’s important to remember that you are not obligated to be happy during the holidays (or any other time.) You have the right to take whatever time you need to deal with your loss and form new traditions and expectations for the season. Pressuring yourself to proceed as usual will probably only make you feel worse.

 It can be especially important at these times to reach out to family and friends. Let them know how you are feeling, and then spend time with the people in your life who are supportive. This year, you may have to do some of this reaching out via Zoom or on the phone, but it can still be helpful. Take care of yourself and remember that there will be other holiday seasons where you will feel better.