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 a little wave and other years it feels more like a tsunami.
At times I’ve felt down in the dumps for a few days and then the sadness passes. But other years I’ve fought melancholy so intense that it became actual depression that lasted for a much longer period.
And while this shouldn’t necessarily come as a shock, given variables like holiday stress, exhaustion, and even seasonal affective disorder, this melancholy somehow catches me off guard.
Every single year.
Truthfully, it’s taken me a long time to recognize this pattern.
That sometimes the holidays feel hard.
A few years ago I mentioned to my husband that I was feeling pretty down. He responded by saying,
“Well, that makes sense. This time of year is usually hard for you.”
He said it in a very matter-of-fact way. He wasn’t being dismissive or insensitive. This was simply a fact as he saw it.
But I immediately became defensive.
“This time of year isn’t hard for me! 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.
The scents! Food! Music! Movies! Lights!
The decorations and books, gift-giving, and the gatherings!
Slowly but surely, I started to admit that he was right.
Sometimes the holidays feel hard.
I know plenty of people who struggle to feel joy during the holiday season. And for some of them, this time of year can actually be quite painful.
The death of a loved one around the holidays.
A first Thanksgiving or Christmas without a specific friend or family member present.
Financial stress rears its ugly head when the monetary demands of gift-giving feels overwhelming.
The flu arrives at the worst possible time, (as if there’s ever a good time!) as holiday demands creep closer.
But here’s what I’ve learned to do when the holidays feel hard…
Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit with the sadness. With the hardness of the holidays, the disappointment, and the sorrow.
Sometimes it’s best to light some candles, turn on some twinkle lights and curl up with a book for the night.
It’s alright to cancel busy, festive plans and opt to have a cozy evening at home instead.
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 and depressed 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 struggling specifically with substance abuse, I recommend checking out the resources at Start Your Recovery. This site offers support and treatment options, educational content from respected experts in the field, and informative and supportive stories from youth and families.
If you’re not depressed or suicidal, but still feeling pretty down, here’s what I encourage you to do when the holidays feel hard:
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.
So come up with one thing to be grateful for.
That’s it. Just one thing.
2. Step outside every single day
Just a few minutes of fresh air and vitamin D can do wonders.
3. Listen to an uplifting podcast
How about one of the following?
Good Life Project with Jonathon Fields
Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
Happier with Gretchen Rubin
Unlocking Us with Brene Brown
4. Turn on some inspiring music
Sing and dance too!
5. Savor your morning tea or coffee
Don’t just chug down your morning beverage. Take some time to actually savor what you’re drinking while you ease into your day.
6. Let a close friend know 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.
So don’t suffer in silence. Reach out when you’re struggling.
7. Light some candles and turn on some twinkle lights
Set a peaceful and cozy mood.
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.
9. Watch a comedy – a movie, sitcom, or amusing talk show
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 are hard, this doesn’t mean that we’re doing them wrong or that we’re somehow flawed.
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.
Do the holidays ever feel hard for you? Have you found effective ways to navigate times of melancholy? If so, I’d love to know what they are!
[…] When the Holidays Feel Hard […]
What a great list and thank you for encouraging people to sit with the sadness…..so important.
Sarah Takehara says
Thank you, Renee. Yes, sitting with the sadness is SO hard but often necessary. Wishing you joy and peace over the holidays!
What a great post, Sarah!
I appreciate the great suggestions you give for nurturing ourselves when we experience sadness over the holidays. In giving ourselves permission to feel sad, we acknowledge how we feel and can work to move past it. If we choose instead to ignore our feelings, that sadness can become like a blanket over all we do.
Sarah Takehara says
Thank you, Mary! I completely agree about the importance of giving ourselves permission to feel sad. I’ve gotten better at this with each passing year, but it can still be challenging. Here’s to nurturing ourselves this holiday season!