Heartache is the real Grinch that steals Christmas. When most folks think of the holidays, they start fantasizing about familial and romantic rituals; but what happens to people who know that those dreams won’t live up to their expectations? Typically, a nagging fear of disappointment will germinate as the trifecta of special days (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve) nears. And as anxiety increases, you must face this sobering reality: You cannot escape your life. When it comes to working on issues that make you feel vulnerable and depressed, it is important to be honest about hurting and to create coping mechanisms that will maximize your happiness and mental health. Looking to develop a real level of contentment this holiday season in the midst of a storm? Here are tips to help you create genuine peace regardless of the blows you’ve absorbed:

  • Allow yourself time to be sad. It’s OK to be down in the dumps; the issue is when you get stuck there. Instead of burying your emotions and feigning cheerfulness, give yourself a finite amount of time to face disappointment—and permission to cry. Then be courageously honest about what hurts and what you’re willing to do to change.
  • Talk to a pro. Therapy works—and it isn’t a life sentence. You don’t have to sit on a couch for years droning on about your problems. Connect with a mental health professional who specializes in short-term, solutions-based therapy, and devise a plan on how you can best cope with your stressors during the upcoming weeks.
  • Embrace what you have. When people experience hard times, they tend to look at everything in a negative light and discount their positives. Acknowledge what is going well in your life, and savor your wins. Be sure to express appreciation for the positive folks in your corner.
  • Make a plan. We can’t control how others behave, but we can curb our responses. Don’t let a false sense of powerlessness keep you in a bad emotional cycle. Consider what is predictable about your holiday gloom—e.g., money issues or family drama—and think about ways you can get a handle on it before crisis mode hits. Write down the coping strategies, and put them somewhere easily accessible.
  • Have additional options. Ever heard the term “game changer”? The holidays are a prime time for things to completely go offtrack, which forces you to recalibrate. If your trauma includes an inordinate amount of shenanigans, be prepared for those “Really?” moments by creating backup options, such as a last-minute spa getaway or spending time with another family, if things don’t go as you’d hoped.
  • Mix it up. As much as possible, limit your exposure to anyone who isn’t invested in having a healthy, jovial experience. We all go through rough patches, but this season is about celebrating our blessings. Be sure to spend time with people who are devoted to bringing positive energy to visits and festive gatherings.