If there were ever a time of year that energy hangs heaviest and most potently on humanity, it would probably be the holiday season. If you feel sad during the holidays, even knowing that it’s a common experience doesn’t always make the ache dissipate. But there are simple things you can do to cope that might make the twinkling lights and constant carols easier to bear if you’re in the midst of a rough time internally.
“Holidays may serve as a strong reminder that things in our life are not quite where we want or expect them to be,” Dr Victoria Chialy Smith, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice, tells Bustle. “We may feel a wide variety of emotions including longing, regret, anger, sadness, and depression.”
Smith says the unresolved feelings the holidays can evoke are understandable. Perhaps you’ve experienced loss that feels particularly hard this time of year, or the financial expectations of the season leave you feeling you stressed and self-critical. Smith says to first and foremost give yourself permission to feel the sadness and heavy feelings. There is no need to get on your own case about not being full of cheer and serenity.
“Meet all of these difficult emotions with compassion,” Smith says, and think about doing that by staying grounded in the present when you start getting a wave of old memories, regrets, longings, or difficult emotions. “Try to stay connected to the peace of the present moment by tuning into your breath or what is immediately going on around you,” she says.
Dr. Jo Eckler, a chronic illness coach, clinical psychologist, and author of I Can’t Fix You Because You’re Not Broken: The Eight Keys to Freeing Yourself from Painful Thoughts and Feelings tells Bustle something similar. Don’t squash down the feelings you’re having, and don’t feel the need to act like your blood is made of glitter when you’re actually feeling bummed. You don’t have to pretend.
Eckler also points out that this time of year is “a ripe time for the comparison trap.” Disengage from compare and despair behaviors, though, friends, be it on social media, in conversation, or just in your own head as you walk through the holiday markets, feeling a bit glum.
“We see images of families laughing together in handmade matching PJ’s and frolicking, or super lovey-dovey couples,” Eckler says. “And even though we might have good families or partners ourselves, it’s hard to live up to a posed picture.”
As for the expectation to get on board the holiday activity train? Well, especially if parties, gatherings, and celebrations feel triggering, there is certainly no need for you to be the belle of each holiday ball. But that said, isolation is something you want to avoid when you’re dealing with sadness or symptoms of depression, Dr. Rebecca Cowan, of Anchor Counseling & Wellness, LLC, tells Bustle.
“When people become sad and depressed, they tend to want to isolate, and this only worsens these symptoms,” Cowan says. “Balance is key, and so is implementing a self-care plan.”
That means things like sleeping, eating enough, sharing with friends, doing things that make you feel relaxed and happy, and Cowan says, getting some sunlight. At least 30 minutes a day.
Counselor Jessica Eiseman, based out of Texas, tells Bustle that it can also be helpful to begin to create your own traditions, to make the holidays something you can enjoy. She brings up the term “un-holidays.”
“Maybe you don’t fit into traditional standards or expectations for the season,” Eiseman says. “Maybe you don’t celebrate at all or you take a trip by yourself. The most important piece being that you create some meaning based on what you enjoy and brings a little peace, if not happiness.”
Eiseman also says that if you aren’t already, visiting a therapist can be really helpful. And if the feelings seem to be worsening, or they are affecting things like your appetite and ability to sleep, do reach out for professional help as soon as possible.
And remember, it’s really OK to feel the heaviness this time of year. It’s palpable, and we are sensitive creatures! Just do what you can to take care of you. Consider it a holiday gift to yourself.
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