Note: Updated November 2021. This post was originally published as When the Holidays Feel Hard. I hope you find comfort here, especially if you’re not sure what to do when the holidays make you sad.
Note: I am NOT a licensed mental health professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price. When the holidays feel hard, it can be easy to dismiss any underlying and more severe mental health challenges. So if what you are feeling is beyond simply having “a bad day” and you’re experiencing persistent depression or anxiety-related symptoms, PLEASE talk to your doctor, reach out to a trusted loved one, or use the contact information above. You are worth it.
Each year during the holiday season, I feel a wave of melancholy wash over me.
It happens sometime between November and January.
Some years it’s just an itty-bitty wave and other years it feels like I’m being pummeled by a tsunami.
Sometimes I feel down in the dumps for a few days and then the sadness passes. But there have been other years when I’ve fought melancholy that was so intense, it morphed into full-blown depression.
And while this shouldn’t necessarily come as a shock, considering holiday stress, exhaustion, and even seasonal affective disorder, this melancholy somehow catches me off guard each time.
Every single year.
It’s taken me a long time to recognize this pattern. Long as in YEARS.
sometimes the holidays make me sad.
A few years ago I mentioned to my husband that I was feeling pretty down. He responded by saying,
“Well, that makes sense. You usually have some hard days and feel sad this time of year.”
He was very matter-of-fact in the way he said it. It was simply an observation he noticed throughout the course of our marriage. He wasn’t being dismissive or insensitive. He was simply stating what was obvious to him.
But I immediately became defensive.
“This time of year isn’t hard for me! The holidays don’t make me feel sad! I LOVE this time of year! I LOVE the holidays!”
How could THIS time of year be hard for me? Fall is my favorite season, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holidays.
I love the scents and the food, the music, and the lights!
Holiday decorations, books, movies, gift-giving… the gatherings!
But a realization started creeping in and soon I had to admit that my husband was right.
Sometimes the holidays make me sad.
What to do When the Holidays Make You Sad
I know plenty of people who struggle to feel joy during the holiday season and for some of them, this time of year can be quite painful.
The death of a loved one around the holidays.
A first Thanksgiving or Christmas without a certain friend or family member present.
Financial stress due to extra holiday costs.
Difficult childhood memories.
There are so many unique experiences that can carry a lot of baggage and pain.
The intensity of the season can catch even the most devoted holiday enthusiasts off guard. Unexpected illness, family bickering, or the stress of a packed schedule are just a few examples of how feelings of overwhelm and sadness can sometimes creep in.
If this describes where you’re at this year, PLEASE cut yourself some slack.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit with your sadness.
Instead of running from your sadness by running through your mental list of obligations and “shoulds”, it might be time to tune into how you’re feeling about the sadness you’re feeling, as well as any disappointment and sorrow.
When I feel the sadness start to seep in, I find that lighting some candles, turning on some twinkle lights, and curling up with a good book or movie often provides a lot of comfort.
It’s alright to cancel busy, festive plans and opt to have a cozy evening at home instead.
Please understand that I am NOT talking about clinical depression.
As someone who has battled clinical depression and anxiety, I know firsthand how critical it is to get the necessary professional help essential for strong health and wellness.
I also know how impossible it can feel to harness the strength necessary to pick up the phone and schedule a doctor’s appointment.
So if the most basic tasks currently feel insurmountable, reach out to a trusted loved one for support and/or use the following contact information to get the necessary help.
If you are in the midst of a dark period, PLEASE reach out to a loved one for help. Better
If you are having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is free, confidential, and available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’re not depressed or suicidal, but still feeling pretty down, here’s what to do when the holidays make you feel sad:
1. Write down one thing you are grateful for every day
I know it can be super annoying to be told to think of something to be grateful for when you’re feeling really down. And the last thing I want is to seem dismissive of any really tough feelings.
But even if it takes a long time to come up with something, or you feel like you can only think of one thing, I promise you that gratitude helps A LOT.
- My morning coffee.
- Snuggling with my dog.
- The sound of my son laughing in the other room.
- The smell of chocolate chip cookies baking.
That’s it. Write down just ONE thing to be grateful for.
2. Step outside every single day
It’s no secret that being outside is hugely beneficial to our well-being.
I know it might be freezing outside. Throw on your jacket and tell yourself you’ll stay out for two minutes. If it’s raining, stand under your porch or in your garage, or somewhere else that is covered where you can notice the rain falling down.
Just a few minutes of fresh air can do wonders. I promise.
3. Listen to an uplifting podcast
Listening to uplifting conversations and practical advice can really help to improve our mood. This is where podcasts can come in really handy!
How about one of the following podcasts?
- Good Life Project with Jonathon Fields
- Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
- Changeability with Kathryn Bryant and Julian Illman
- Happier with Gretchen Rubin
- The One You Feed with Eric Zimmer and Charles Forbes
Choose a podcast and press play!
4. Turn on some inspiring music
Put on some of your favorite songs. Head to Spotify and type in “inspiring music”, “hopeful music”, “uplifting music”, or something similar.
Sing and dance along too!
Don’t overthink it, just turn on some inspiring music!
5. Savor your morning tea or coffee
Notice the word “savor” here.
Oftentimes, we’re rushing around in the mornings and miss out on the opportunity to truly appreciate our morning beverage of choice.
Is there a way for you to spend a few extra minutes actually savoring your tea or coffee? Maybe you could wake up five minutes earlier than usual so that you can pay attention to your process. Or if you take your coffee to go, consider sitting down in your car for a couple of minutes and taking a sip while closing your eyes.
Instead of chugging down on your morning tea or coffee, (which is often our default) see if you can slow down just a bit.
Take a few extra minutes to savor what you’re drinking while you ease into your day.
6. tell someone you’re struggling
We often let our fear of burdening a loved one keep us from reaching out for help. But the people who love us want to know when we’re struggling so they can offer support.
Is there a family member, close friend, co-worker, or neighbor you can reach out to?
Please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and tell someone when you’re struggling.
7. Light some candles and turn on some twinkle lights
When things feel heavy and sad, adding some light can really improve the way we feel. Candles and twinkle lights are an ideal way to create a warm and cozy mood.
Light some candles and turn on some twinkle lights to add comfort and joy.
8. Read a good book
Read the pages of an old favorite. Or start something you’ve been wanting to read but keep putting off. Soak up the words of a meaningful poem or two.
Hardcover, paperback, kindle, or an audiobook… there are so many ways to “read a good book”!
Escape for a bit in the pages of a good book.
9. Watch a show that makes you smile
Do you have some favorite shows that make you smile? Think about things you watch that give you a sense of comfort.
Here are some of mine, in case you need some suggestions:
- The Great British Baking Show
- Ted Lasso
- Schitt’s Creek
- The Office
- Gilmore Girls
- Jane the Virgon
- Parks and Recreation
- New Girl
If you’re not feeling inspired by any of these, consider a movie, some stand-up comedy, or an inspiring documentary that you enjoy.
Put on one of your favorite shows of choice to add a smile to your face.
10. Give yourself permission to feel sad
The hard truth is that there are seasons of sadness and melancholy in life. As uncomfortable as it is to sit with this melancholy, sometimes that’s exactly what we need to do.
When the holidays feel sad, this doesn’t mean that we’re doing them wrong or that we’re somehow flawed.
It simply means we’re human.
And please remember, if you need professional help finding a mental health care provider but don’t know where to start, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price.
To recap, here are 10 simple suggestions to incorporate when the holidays make you feel sad:
- Write down one thing you are grateful for each day
- Step outside every single day
- Listen to an uplifting podcast
- Turn on some inspiring music
- Savor your morning tea or coffee
- Tell someone you’re struggling
- Light some candles and turn on some twinkle lights
- Read a good book
- Watch a show that makes you smile
- Give yourself permission to feel sad
Do the holidays ever make you feel sad? Have you found effective ways to navigate times of melancholy? If so, please share in the comments what you do to take care of yourself!