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Mental Health

Expert Advice: Why Do the Holidays Make Me So Irritable?

This time of year tends to activate grief, loneliness, and old family patterns.

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From nosy relatives to never-ending to-do’s, the holidays can be frustrating. But you don’t have to be so irritable this time of year. Here are six tips from our experts that’ll help you reclaim your bliss and hopefully enjoy the next month.

Meet our expert panel

  • Alison McKleroy, LMFT, author of Essential Strategies for Social Anxiety, is the founder of Center for Spark, a personal growth company. More at CenterForSpark.com.
  • Judith Orloff, MD, author of Affirmations for Empaths, is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. Visit her at DrJudithOrloff.com.
  • Jourdan Travers, LCSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety, mood, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders. More at awake-therapy.me.

Don’t hold it in.

It’s perfectly okay to feel less than jolly, says expert Alison McKleroy. “Just tell yourself, It’s human to feel cranky over the holidays — it makes sense.” This hectic season tends to activate grief, loneliness, and old family patterns we hoped we had moved on from, she notes. “Instead of trying to avoid irritability, let yourself feel it — only when we’re practicing unconditional openness to all of our feelings, including negative ones, can we be open to joy.”

Ask yourself this question.

“You may want to ask, Is my sour mood due to an emotional or physical reason?” suggests expert Judith Orloff, MD. “Maybe you feel pressure to be the perfect hostess or are overwhelmed that you have to do it all, but irritability may also be a caused by an overlooked physical need.” Is the gray weather affecting you? Are you getting enough sleep? “Pinpointing it will help you discover how to lift your spirits.”

Evaluate what’s important.

To feel happier this season, identify your values, urges McKleroy. “For example, if someone in your family is controlling and calling all the shots over holiday plans, you may be frustrated because you value your independence and want a less-rigid schedule,” she says. “Just discovering what we want most instantly helps us honor it, set better boundaries, and feel more at ease.”

Take mini-breaks.

In this busy season, it’s hard to find time to relax. “That’s why when we get grumpy, it’s important to know the power of mini breaks — just take five minutes to recharge,” says Dr. Orloff. “I get irritable when my senses are overloaded, so if I’m at a holiday party, I’ll excuse myself to go to the bathroom or I’ll close my eyes or take a few relaxing breaths.” It doesn’t take long to reset and calm your nerves, she promises. “Have empathy with yourself and allow yourself the freedom to take a pause.”

Make simple requests.

If you have to interact with someone difficult, create a simple script you can follow to alleviate tension, says McKleroy. For example, if someone always makes you feel unheard, you might say, “I’d love to participate in X, and I have a few ideas — would you be open to listening to them?” The more specific we are, the more responsive people tend to be.

Define your own bliss.

The holidays are a call to action — that is, a time to do things that make you smile, urges expert Jourdan Travers. “This starts with being honest with yourself: Maybe you don’t like wrapping gifts, but you love making hot chocolate,” she says. “We hear it all the time: Put on your oxygen mask first and take care of yourself. We tend to think the holidays are an exception to this rule, but self-care is more important now than ever.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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