Keep the Happy in Your Holidays

10 Ways to Boost Your Mood

The holidays are upon us! For some, this is the happiest time of the year, spent celebrating with family and friends and keeping traditions alive. However, for others, especially those struggling with the loss of loved ones, financial strains or social anxiety, or those who are not blessed with big families and social circles, it can be lonely and stressful. Here are 10 ways to keep yourself feeling calm and bright this holiday season, so you can share in and enjoy this most wonderful time of the year.

Begin a New Travel Tradition

If nothing sounds worse to you than staying home for the holidays, try planning a last-minute outing or road trip. Driving on Christmas Day itself typically means the roads are empty. Lines at places like ski resorts and amusement parks are shorter and tickets tend to be discounted. Drive-through holiday light installations are open, and many towns – even the small ones! – have downtown strips decked out in holiday decor. And while national parks are closed on Christmas Day, most state parks are open for hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, snowshoeing and other activities. And, it’s also pretty much a guarantee that no one from work will be bugging you with annoying emails.

Light a Fire

Curling up in front of a warm and cozy fire is certainly a pleasant way to spend a winter evening, but research shows focusing on an open flame can actually induce feelings of calm, boost your mood and even lower blood pressure. No fireplace? No problem. The same benefits were achieved by watching a video of a fire, so go ahead and put that yule log on the television. Or, simply light a candle and focus on the gentle flicker of the flame to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Watch a Movie

Watching the Christmas movies we enjoyed as children reminds us of growing up and makes us feel safe and happy, but discovering new ones can also bring those wanted holiday feelings of comfort and joy. So, grab some popcorn and your beverage of choice, curl up under a cozy blanket and press “play.” Need some ideas for inspiration? Check out this list of the best Christmas movies of all time. Also note that listening to holiday music can invoke similar feelings of happy nostalgia, but beware the perils of playing the same songs over and over; mix up your playlists or seek out underrated or unknown gems to avoid cognitive fatigue.


The holiday season is known for the giving of gifts, but the giving of your time is a great way to feel like you’ve done some real good. Sign up to cook or serve meals at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Help to collect, organize and distribute cold-weather gear, school supplies, toys or diapers to those in need. Bake cookies for first responders or send holiday cards or New Year wishes to military personnel. Volunteer to help shovel snow or do other yard work for elderly neighbors. You’ll undoubtedly find that helping others helps you, too.

Get Outside

Yes, it’s cold outside, but as the saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” So, layer up and go for a walk or jog around the neighborhood, and because seasonal affective disorder – appropriately abbreviated as “SAD” - is a real thing, do it during daylight hours when you can soak up the winter sun. Sunlight is a proven mood-booster, and just a small dose can deliver enough energy to help you power through your day.

Reach Out

Recent times have been challenging for all of us, so spreading some holiday cheer – and increasing your own – is a perfect reason to reach out to those you haven’t seen in while, whether because of the pandemic, overbooked calendars or simple geography. A quick text or email that says “I’m thinking of you” could bring a little joy to someone’s day, while hearing the voice of a far-off loved-one over the phone is sure to bring smiles on both ends of the line. If you can safely gather in person, do it. This is a season of connection, and the best present is presence!

Protect Your Time

During the holiday season, many of us feel compelled to accept every invitation to every party or gathering, big and small, leaving little time for ourselves and leaving us feeling frazzled rather than content in the joys of the season. Be realistic with your schedule to avoid overextending yourself and increasing your stress and anxiety levels. So, if saying “No” to a few – or all! – holiday engagements is what you need to do to preserve your sanity, do it. And the more you say “no,” the easier it will become. You’ll be grateful you’re not expending energy on events you don’t really care about, and more free to really enjoy those that are important to you.

Make a List (And Check it Twice)

The tasks of the holiday season can be overwhelming, but completing them can bring a sense of accomplishment that boosts your self-confidence and makes you feel efficient and empowered. So, make a to-do list of the tasks you need to accomplish each day, like shopping, cooking and baking, kids activities, holiday gatherings and other appointments, and simple things like, “Call Aunt Louise.” A real list, that is, on paper. And as you complete each task, cross it off your list. The act of physically scribbling over each item you complete provides a profound sense of achievement that will reduce your stress levels and leave you thinking, “I’ve got this.”

Indulge, Intelligently

Everyone loves to enjoy an extra glass of wine, an extra trip to the cheese plate, or an extra cookie, and in the moment, all of those extras are certainly mood-boosters. But we all inevitably allow ourselves too many treats, and later, stress and guilt can creep in and burst our happy bubbles. Of course, you should enjoy yourself, but make the indulgences worth it; if you don’t absolutely love what you’re about to eat or drink, leave it. Avoid skipping meals to “save room” for a bigger meal later on; you can often end up being so ravenous that you’ll eat much more overall. When you finish your first helping, rest for 10 minutes before going back for seconds to allow your body and brain time to register how full you are. And swap out some of your alcoholic beverages with water or seltzer. The water will fill you up so you’ll eat less, and it will ensure you’re properly hydrated.

Stick With Your Exercise Routine

Yes, the holiday season is always overly busy for everyone, and it can be difficult to find time to squeeze in your daily workouts. However, protecting the hour a day in your calendar that you devote to exercise goes a long way towards reducing stress, anxiety and depression, and of course, it will help you burn off those extra holiday calories.