Another holiday season has snuck up, or at least it feels that way to me. Every year, I think about everything I intend to do in advance or have ready for the holidays to ease the stress. Yet, here I am again, scrambling to put things together and buying gifts while also finding time to enjoy this time of year. Does that sound familiar?

In previous years, living away from family and close friends meant that our family spent the holidays mostly on our own. While that may seem isolating, it was also a little freeing. Fewer expectations and obligations allowed me to approach the holidays however I wanted. Creating our own traditions was a beautiful way to embrace living abroad. It was nice to get away from Bangkok to enjoy the time with my husband and kids and relax. Now that we can gather with extended family, the old stresses threaten to return. The difference is that I know it doesn’t have to be that way. This year, I want to focus on doing these five things that have helped me in the past.

Don't let expectation steal your joy

Being away from familiar places and people can really suck the joy out of the holidays if you let it. Things may differ from how you have always remembered them, and perhaps that isn’t the worst thing. The rose-colored glasses we put on to remember the past can often hide the things that weren’t great. Wishing things were another way won’t change the reality, so take a moment to consider what will truly make the holidays enjoyable for you. If that means skipping holiday cards this year, go for it.

Make holiday travel a new tradition

If jumping into holiday traditions of years past is a trigger, make a new one. After years of spending the holidays at the beach in Thailand, it was tough for me to adjust to hosting or attending gatherings and everything that comes with it.

You could convince some loved ones to take a trip. It is a beautiful way to take the responsibilities of playing host away from any one person. Traveling for the holidays is also a fun way to experience something new with the people you missed seeing when you couldn’t be with them. Get everyone involved in picking a destination. Purchase matching vacation shirts. Either way, feel free to do things in a different way if it hasn’t been working.

Do something fun

Our obligations throughout the year can make it hard to spend time on the things we enjoy, especially with a family. Although the holiday schedule can quickly become overwhelming, pick something to do that is pure fun. Explore your community, attend a local event, or take that class you’ve always wanted to do. Or just have a dance party in your living room each day before jumping into a task. The holiday season can feel really heavy if we carry the weight of creating joy and magic for our loved ones around the whole time. Take back some of that magic for yourself. There’s a little bit of light all around if you are looking for it.

Use your time to give back

The holidays can be a lonely time for many people. While others are immersed in their joy, it can be challenging at times to connect or find your own happiness if this is a difficult time. One thing that always helped me in the past was giving my time to help spread joy to others. Just a few hours of volunteering gets you away from your deep, dark thoughts and can expose you to the suffering that people experience every day. Many organizations can use the help, especially during the holiday season, and making someone’s day brighter could be the thing you need to get out of a holiday season funk.

Take time to relax

The holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, it is essential to build in some time for yourself to unwind in the midst of craziness. Resist the urge to pack your holiday with an excessive number of events or ambitious projects. Check-in with yourself to find out what will bring you calm, and make sure to prioritize it. The whole family will need the break after a full year of work, school, and activities. If you must plan something, consider an activity that will fill the time in a pleasant way.

However you choose to find joy this holiday season, I hope it is exactly what you need to finish the year on a high note and start the new year ready to tackle the world.

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