The holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year for many people. Even for the excited folks who put their Christmas tree up after Halloween, the holiday season can be complicated. Work, schedule juggling, family dynamics, and financial stress all seem to come to a chaotic head from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
But for some of us the holidays are not just complicated, they are dreadful. Past traumas, toxic relationships, bigoted extended family, and living an authentic life not supported by folks at home can cause emotional and physical pain. If you don’t feel safe at home, please know it is more than okay to take care of yourself even when you feel pulled in too many directions by too many expectations. You deserve to feel safe, loved, and supported.
Here are some pieces of advice I have been given and words I follow to get through the tough days, especially the holidays.
1. You are not alone.
When I am struggling, I feel a sense of hopelessness and shame, especially when the people around me are bustling with holiday cheer. I question if I have any right to be feeling the way I am. I manage to convince myself that other people in my position would be able to better process their emotions. Why am I the only one feeling this way? Then I talk to my person and my friends and they remind me I am not alone in my feelings, and because of that, I am not alone in this world. Neither are you. Feel what you need to feel.
2. Put your health and safety first.
If you see a therapist, plan an extra visit around the holidays and be sure to keep up with the routines that help you feel physically healthy and emotionally strong. Give yourself extra time for self-soothing hobbies, even if that is a nap or long shower. Say no to activities and people who create panic and stress in your life. Do what you need to do—without guilt—to put your health and safety first.
3. Don’t feel bad about setting boundaries.
Not only is it okay to have boundaries, but they are critical to your happiness and mental health. It has taken me a long time to trust that I am allowed to establish what I need and then to ask for or demand it. People who resist the boundaries we set do so because they make them uncomfortable. Their comfort is not more important than yours if you are feeling unsafe, unloved, disrespected, or unheard. Expect resistance from toxic and emotionally immature folks, but setting boundaries is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
4. You don’t have to show up.
You don’t have to engage with people or conversations that create triggers for you or are damaging to your self-worth. I am queer and nonbinary. I and so many other LGBTQIA+ folks are not accepted at all dinner tables and sometimes that includes our own. You are under zero obligations to show up to an event, meal, or family function because someone thinks you should, especially if you know they will not respect boundaries, treat you poorly, and make you feel awful. Use your no.
5. Find your people.
There is a reason why Friendsgiving is so popular. Enjoying delicious food and curling up with people who truly see and love us are what the holidays should be about. If you can’t get that at home, I promise your people are out there. Family is made up of the people who we choose for ourselves.
6. Sobriety is a great choice.
Whether you are in recovery or not, it is absolutely okay to not drink. I am two and a half years sober, but the memories of using booze to get through a holiday dinner with family or a holiday spent away from family are very tangible. I had to drink to survive the company I was with or I had to drink to survive the guilt from setting boundaries. But all of that was toxic and only giving power to the folks making me feel unsafe in the first place. I still have a lot of complicated and scary feelings around the holidays, but I am able to process them better without alcohol. I am also able to better monitor the words that come out of my mouth.
7. Remember you are amazing.
You are really, really amazing. This is not lip service. You are a human being worthy of respect and kindness. You are a badass who is moving through life one step and breath at a time and that is really fucking hard to do on some days. Keep going. You are doing great.
8. It’s okay to mourn.
As toxic as your relationships may be and for all of the boundaries you have set to take care of yourself, it is okay to acknowledge a loss. Cutting a parent out of your life or having a parent reject you still leaves you without a parent. This is true for any family member. The holidays are a reminder of what I don’t have in terms of family, especially when held up next to those Hallmark movies. I tell myself and am telling you: it’s okay to miss what you used to have, or what will never be.
9. Have a plan.
If you are around family or folks who make you feel unsafe or less than during the holidays, it helps to have a plan. Set a time limit for the visit, take a walk alone or with a cousin or sibling who you can trust, have a friend you can text or call if you need support. Be sure to build in post-family time self-care too. Mentally preparing for a holiday function and then looking forward to a milkshake, run, bubble bath or all three can help you through it.
10. You will get through.
You are amazing, remember? You will get through the day. When you don’t feel safe or have any desire to be home for obligatory traditions, holiday expectations feel impossible to carry. You don’t have to carry a thing, but if you can’t avoid going home know that minute by minute the time will pass and you will get through it all. There just isn’t any other choice. Your family may not get better but you can and will.
The holidays can be wonderful and shitty at the same time. I am here to remind you that you don’t need to put up with anyone’s bullshit though. Keep living the life that honors your authenticity, joy, and health. We can do this.
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