Give Yourself a Break This Holiday Season

This holiday season, I’m doing my best to get in touch with my immense gratitude for all the great things in my life: my family, my friends, my business, my colleagues, my health, my creativity, and the many inspiring moments that continue to feed my passion for highlighting women’s voices. Also, did I mention 2020? Because it’s going to be a freaking awesome year—one full of clarity and new adventures!

Additionally, I am making space for that other stuff that most of us prefer to sideline in favor of positive thinking. You know, those uncomfortable feelings, like anger…fear…sadness. Or those gnarly, impatient, constantly frustrated parts of me that—try as I may—I can never seem to get a handle on.

This is a time of year that has always historically been about holding close what we love most: family, friends, and the precious little moments that so often get swept aside. And rightfully so.

But sometimes these rules can feel a little stifling. We’re supposed to sideline the pettiness and the small and large annoyances. We’re supposed to resist the desire to tell off that one loudmouthed uncle who always spews inappropriate jokes. We’re supposed to smile, breathe, and let the waves of ugliness just pass over us. We’re supposed to be grateful to be alive, even when the overwhelming responsibilities are piling up and suffocating us.

After all, it’s the holidays. This is the time to lighten up…right?

Think again. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, for women, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year—and we have an extremely hard time just relaxing and enjoying the season.

And it makes sense. Women are already tasked with the invisible emotional labor of taking care of everyone but themselves. For most of us, the pressure to tap-dance around everyone else’s needs is an epidemic. Studies show that it worsens around the holidays. Whether we’re humoring offensive relatives, sending out loads of holiday cards, buying the “perfect” gifts for our loved ones, decorating like crazy, or baking and cooking up a storm, there is hardly time to give voice to some of the darker feelings lurking within.

Gratitude is a value that I think is important to practice moment to moment, not just at the end of the year. But to me, it’s ineffective if it comes at the cost of denying everything else that’s present for us.

I’ve been wondering what to do when the darkness comes creeping in and casting its shadow over the bright holiday lights. Self-care? Girls’ night out? Simply sitting in the mess of it all? I don’t have a thorough answer for you, but I do know that I’m choosing to take my gratitude with an extra dose of self-compassion this year.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to stop turning everything into an either/or situation: That is, either I come to terms with my feelings and choose gratitude, or I wallow in the darker feelings and say “screw you” to the holiday cheer.

We are complex beings, and it’s possible to hold both gratitude and those very real feelings of anger, aloneness, and frustration at the same time. In fact, it’s imperative that women learn to recognize that both of these states can be true simultaneously. Seriously, it’s possible to be grateful and to still be in a shitty mood! That doesn’t mean we’re being a Negative Nancy. It just means we’re being human. In other words, “we are all” large enough to contain the full spectrum, especially during this time of year—when holiday cheer brushes right up against depression and anxiety.

So today, I’m right there with the majority of you, who might be celebrating while you are grieving, or remembering your blessings even as you sit in the midst of disappointment. It is this ability to hold seemingly contradictory truths that makes us who we are. And for that, I am truly grateful.

If you’re willing to embrace your messiness this holiday season, check out my bestselling book, Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman, which is an awesome holiday stuffer for all the would-be super-women in your life! And if you’re one of those people who dread confrontation around the holidays, check out my popular Hard Conversations Toolkit, which will get you through the season and give you the skills you need to “adult” through conflict. Find out more and enjoy five days of early-bird pricing (25% off), between now and January 15th, with the code HOLIDAYHC here.

I have also created the Hard Conversations Toolkit for Young Adults, for our younger generation of Truthtellers. Wf1 is currently partnering with universities to bring this powerful course to the young people they serve. For more information on how you can share it with young adults in your life, email us at If you’re interested in bringing the Hard Conversations Toolkit to your university, go here.

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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