We often see the “marketing” side of the holiday season. The media blasts photos of people happily shopping, cooking comforting foods and doing fun things together. But as a therapist, I know that this isn’t the whole story. I see people that have deep sadness and grief throughout the holiday season as it reminds them of a loved one they are missing. I see people that are crippled by anxiety as they wish to provide presents under the tree. I see people who feel alone. I see people that feel trapped in family roles that they can’t seem to break free from. I see people who have been stressed throughout the year, reach their breaking point.

But before YOU reach your breaking point, let’s try to change the story here. We can make the holidays better, if not even like the marketing geniuses deem it “JOYOUS”. In order to do this, you have to commit to yourself that you are going to tell a different story this year.

It begins with recognizing what exactly are the feelings you are having and why- sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, etc. Once you identify your true feelings, here some very broad tips for helping you find your joy this season.

1. Be mindful and focus on the positive

Notice your own tendencies and when you feel out of alignment with “joy”. You can change your interactions with others by slowing down. You can even change your interactions just by focusing on the good and positive. Do more of the good and positive.

2. Set boundaries

Your enjoyment of the season is just as important as everyone else’s. Make sure you are happy too.

3. Help others

Nothing is more grounding than helping people in the community. If you have a service, provide it for free to someone that couldn’t normally afford it. Help at a food bank or something that appeals you. You will be surprised at how energized the body and mind feel after being generous with others.

4. Enjoy the outside

We tend to spend a lot of time indoors this time of year with shopping and eating. Even if your area of the country is cold, bundle up and get some fresh air. Go for a walk and contemplate the beauty of your surroundings. Plant a tree for someone who is not with you this year.

5. Plan a trip for during or after the holidays

It can be a simple weekend away where you get to enjoy a new city or a seaside adventure. Travel opens doors to relaxation and can shift us out of our unhappy states- as long as it is in the budget!

You have to decide that you want your holiday story to be a good one. You may need extra counseling to get through the month- professional or through talking with close friends. But you can do it and you can make this a time of year that feels cozy, warm and joyful.