Photo of a mother and daughter posing for a photo at an outdoor ice rink.

For many of us, the end of the semester and holiday season can be one of the busiest (and most stressful) times of year. Preparing for family, finalizing work projects, cooking and tracking down last-minute gifts can often feel overwhelming. However, if we focus too much of our energy on to-do's, we may miss out on the small moments that make the holiday season joyful. 

Here are some ways you can celebrate the little things and spread joy over the holidays.

1. Take time off (seriously) 

Stepping away from work responsibilities may be challenging for many people. This year, commit to unplugging and leaving work behind so you can focus your time and energy toward the things that really matter. 

Here are some tips to help you disconnect: 

  • Reschedule meetings that may interfere with your time away. 
  • Give your team advance notice if you plan to take additional time off. 
  • Set up an out-of-office email notification before you leave. 
  • Resist the urge to check work email or other messages while out of the office.  
  • Turn off work notifications, including email, chats and work-specific phones.  
  • Store your laptop somewhere you can’t easily see it while you’re on holiday. 
  • If you must stay connected to work, set boundaries with your supervisor and coworkers. 
  • Ask your manager or team members to share the responsibilities for any urgent or last-minute needs that might come up. 
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy your time away from work. 
  • Encourage your friends and family to follow these tips as well.

You can also make the return to work smoother by giving yourself (and your colleagues) grace and setting realistic expectations. Some ways to do this include giving yourself a buffer period to catch up, blocking off your calendar for a few days, making a list of essential or high-priority tasks that must be done and scheduling time to meet with your supervisor or team to reconnect and get back on track together.  

2. Share your gratitude 

Gratitude can be a surprisingly powerful force, especially around the holidays. Expressing our appreciation for something or someone without expecting anything in return can help us create deeper bonds, spread joy, improve our own well-being and live a life of abundance. This holiday season, take some time to share gratitude for yourself and others.  

Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude: 

  • Gratitude jar: Grab an empty jar or container and some scrap paper. Each day, write down at least one thing you’re grateful for. Encourage your family members and friends to join in too. Drop each slip of paper into the jar and at the end of the week, sit down so you can read them together. 
  • Send thanks: Send a letter, greeting card or postcard to the people in your life that you’re grateful for. You can send this as a general act of gratitude or in thanks for things like holiday gifts or travel accommodations.  
  • Appreciation notes: If you want a quick way to practice gratitude on the go, consider using a notebook, phone app or Post-Its to jot down things you’re grateful for in the moment. It can be as simple as something that made you laugh today, something nice a person did for you or a fond memory that came to mind. 
  • Loving-kindness meditations: Meditation can help us pause from our busy lives, so we can feel more present. Loving-kindness meditations in particular can help us expand our sense of gratitude, kindness and compassion, both for ourselves and others. Follow along with this Loving-Kindness Meditation from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. 

3. Let your inner child out 

Do you have fond memories of the holidays or winter fun from your childhood? This year, try to spend time letting your inner child out! Engaging in silliness and play can be a great way to relieve stress, bring laughter into your life and find new sources of joy. If you have children, try to avoid standing on the sidelines when doing activities. Instead, make an effort to join in the fun when possible. If you don’t have children, have fun on your own, with friends or other family members! 

Here are some activities to try: 

  • Go ice skating or sledding 
  • Play childhood games like tag 
  • Enjoy a scavenger hunt (this can include things like driving around your neighborhood to find different holiday decor like reindeer, snowmen, light displays, etc.) 
  • Dig out your favorite board games or a puzzle 
  • Create orbs of ice by blowing bubbles in cold weather 
  • Have a snowball fight 
  • Build a snowman or lay down and make a snow angel 
  • Build a snow fort or maze 
  • Create a pile of snow to jump into (just make sure it’s soft enough to avoid injury) 
  • Head to a local playground or park 

4. Embrace old traditions or create new ones 

Does your family celebrate traditions around the holidays? For instance, you may cook a specific meal or enjoy watching holiday movies together. Lean into these traditions or try something new.  

Here are a few things you can do by yourself or as a family: 

  • Holiday crafts: Create homemade decorations to put up around the house. These can include paper snowflakes, origami stars, salt dough ornaments or other DIY creations. 
  • Movie night: Enjoy a cozy night in with hot chocolate, holiday movies and your favorite festive pajamas. 
  • Holiday race: Each year a number of cities in Colorado host 5K and 10K races around the holidays. You can run, jog or walk solo or sign up with friends to enjoy some pre-meal movement. 
  • DIY ugly sweaters: Listen to holiday music and craft with friends or family to make your own ugly holiday sweaters. If your budget is tight this year, consider thrifting decorations or sweaters, or use what you already have around the house. 
  • Decorate cookies. Enjoy a night decorating homemade or store-bought cookies. If your family and friends are competitive, turn it into a competition to see who has the best decorating skills. You can also ship cookies or organize a cookie exchange with friends to share the baked goodness with loved ones. 

If you’re spending the holidays away from family and friends this year, consider FaceTiming or calling them to enjoy these activities together. 

5. Delight in your senses 

You can practice mindfulness, soak up the moment and enhance holiday experiences by delighting in your five senses.  

Here are some ways to engage your senses over the holidays: 

  • Sight: Ring in the holiday season by taking note of festive lights, decorations and color schemes on display. Be mindful when you’re out and about or in your own home. Take notice of things that you don’t normally see during other times of the year. 
  • Sound: Soak up holiday sounds on the radio, in your own home or around town. This can include festive music, holiday bells, the crunch of snow under your boots and other sounds. 
  • Aroma: Do you have a favorite holiday scent? Maybe you love the smell of pine, pumpkin pie, cinnamon and cloves, cider or gingerbread. Take time to invoke your sense of smell through cooking, candles or spices. 
  • Flavors: Indulge in your favorite holiday flavors by making special meals or snacks. This can include things like eggnog, peppermint cocoa, cookies or cultural dishes that are meaningful to your family. 
  • Touch: Cold winter weather is the perfect excuse to lean into your sense of touch through blankets, a warm fire, soft slippers and other seasonal textures. 

6. Let it go 

It’s hard to experience and spread joy when we feel overextended. During the busy holiday season, it can be easy to get caught up in feelings of frustration, stress and family dynamics. This year, make a point to turn your focus to gratitude. Remind yourself that other people are outside of your control, and sometimes it’s best to simply let it go. This includes things like political arguments, expectations and other demands. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time to think of manageable ways that you can take care of yourself. 

Try these self-care tips over break


If you’re struggling this holiday season, be sure to connect with resources on and off campus.

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

FSAP provides free mental health services for all CU Boulder staff and faculty, including brief individual or couples counseling, community referrals, workshops and support groups.

AcademicLiveCare (ALC)

ALC is a telehealth platform that allows CU Boulder staff, faculty and students to schedule medical and mental health appointments virtually. This is a great option for staff and faculty who are traveling out of state or who want evening, weekend or after-hours support.

The Real Help Hotline

The Real Help Hotline provides access to professional counselors who can offer assistance finding local resources as well as immediate crisis counseling. This program is free, confidential and available to all employees 24/7 by calling 833-533-2428 or texting “TALK” to 38255.

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for those who have experienced and/or witnessed a traumatic or disturbing event. 

Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC)

The CUCRC provides support and connection for students, faculty and staff in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors. They offer weekly meetings, peer-to-peer support, substance-free events and community referrals.

Published: Dec. 20, 2023