5 Ways to Survive the Holidays If You're Scrooge

hthe old legend says that better not sulk, better not cry. But that’s all some of us want to do during the holiday season, when the pressure to be festive is so strong that anyone who doesn’t comply risks being labeled the Grinch or Scrooge.

There are many reasons to dislike the holidays, including strained family relationships, chaotic travel logistics, and the pressure to buy lots of gifts (in this economy). All are valid, say mental health experts.

“Just like some people like chocolate and some people don’t, some people don’t like the things associated with the holidays,” says Dr. Jessica Bychkofsky, a psychiatrist in Florida. “There may be religious undertones that they don’t like and appreciate. They may not like going outside when it’s cold outside. Some people don’t like the noise or the music at the holidays and find it intrusive or unpleasant.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s important to focus on the things that restore you. This includes the year-round stuff—enough sleep and exercise, and I drink alcohol lightly– as well as activities that really lift you up. This is the time to get that massage, go to the movies and surround yourself with your favorite things.

If you dread decorating the halls, here are five ways to do better this holiday season.


Illustration by Brown Bird Design for TIME

Maybe you don’t want to have a quiet night – and then another and another. There is so much focus on togetherness during the holidays that those without a full calendar can feel overwhelmed isolated and sad. Be open about it. “Don’t be afraid to tell someone, ‘I’m alone. What are your plans? I still haven’t,” says Dr. Sue Varma, a psychiatrist in New York. Many people will respond by extending an invitation; maybe the only reason they haven’t done it already is because they didn’t realize you’d be available or interested.

You can also search for new friends and things to do through platforms like Meeting and The next door, recommends Varma. Another way to surround yourself with people is to volunteer, even if it’s not something you plan to do for the rest of the year. Sign up to visit residents at a local nursing home, bake First Aid cookies, adopt a kitten, or serve food at a homeless shelter. You’ll be able to socialize and whoever you’re helping will be grateful for the company—a win-win from every angle.

Set boundaries.

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Many people struggle with the holidays due to strained family relationships. Setting boundaries is key, Varma says: Tell your mom you’ll join her for Thanksgiving, but only one-on-one, not with her new husband, who you don’t get along with. Or, if you don’t have the capacity to handle your uncle’s political opinionslet your family know you’ll be seeing him in a large group setting (not sitting right next to you at dinner).

Prepare a few lines to shut down any unwanted conversations. If someone brings up politics and you don’t want to engage, say, “I’m not here to talk about that, but I’d like to talk about that delicious food or the amazing athletes playing football today,” suggests Marja Kelsch, a psychotherapist at California.

If you’re nervous your guests will bring up a difficult personal issue, address it directly upon arrival. You might say, “Todd and I broke up. It was really hard. I’d appreciate it if we couldn’t talk about it because I really want to enjoy being here with all of you,” Beachkofsky offers. “It sounds scary, but if you say it once, and if these people are even remotely sane, they’re not going to bring up the thing you’re asking them not to talk about.”

Let yourself feel sad.

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Every year, Beachkofsky hears from people who are overcome with grief of the idea of ​​spending the holidays without someone who is no longer here. Her best advice? “You have to feel the feelings,” she says. “If you’re sad and everyone else is happy, you’re entitled to that feeling.” One way to cope, Beachkofsky says, is to let a supportive friend or family member know you’re struggling. Ask if you can call them whenever you need an ear. Then you’ll know there’s someone to turn to who won’t just tell you to cheer up and eat another cookie.

It can also be helpful to find ways to honor the person or people you are grieving. Did you share a special tradition, like always watching Trans-Siberian Orchestra together or making popcorn garlands for the Christmas tree? “Find a way to work that into the season,” says Stephanie Uhley, a licensed professional counselor based in Texas. Or make a special ornament or photo collage to remind you of your loved one. “You can even put a place on the table to remember them,” she says.

Be flexible with travel.

Illustration by Brown Bird Design for TIME

Travel can be a logistical nightmare during the busiest time of year. If you don’t want to spend money on a plane ticket during the prime time or if you are afraid of crowds and long delays, offer a compromise to your relatives from a distance. “Just say, ‘We’re not going to celebrate Christmas on December 25 — we’re going to do it on February 1,'” suggests Varma. Then you can eliminate a major source of stress and have something to look forward to during the holiday season.

Be discreet with gifts.

Illustration by Brown Bird Design for TIME

It continues inflation still causes the prices for almost everything spike. If excessive spending is stressing you out, reduce the tension. First, tell your family members that you need to be more restrained about gifts this year, advises Varma. Those with a large family can draw names and buy for just one person or arrange for only the children to receive gifts.

And rethink your perspective on what makes a good gift. As Varma points out, people love getting homemade treats or other inexpensive but thoughtful offerings—“something as simple as homemade pesto,” she says. If you’re gifting someone you know values ​​time with you, book a yoga class or plan to cook a special meal together. “There are so many ways to be creative that don’t involve a lot of money,” she says.

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