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Holiday Blues? You're Not Alone and Here's What You Can Do

Steps for finding ease during the holiday season when you're feeling down.

Key points

  • Despite the way popular culture portrays the holiday season as joyful and merry, for many, it is a time of difficult emotions.
  • In addition to experiencing difficult emotions, many people suffer additionally because they feel they should not be feeling the way they do.
  • Learning to accept one's feelings as they are, honor one's needs, and find ways to nourish oneself in genuine ways creates more ease.
Source: Michaela/Pixabay

While the holiday season is—according to everything from greeting cards, to songs, to well wishes, to marketing ads—a time to be merry and joyful, this isn’t so for many people. A large number of people experience sadness, loneliness, anxiety, isolation, financial stress, loss, grief, family conflict and difficulties, pressures of running on frenzied energy, and other major stressors, especially at this time of year. To make matters worse, people often feel that they shouldn’t be feeling sad or upset at this time of year, that they should be feeling happy, and perhaps even that there’s something wrong with them that they are feeling this way.

Sadness, grief, anxiety, and other more “difficult” emotions are part of our human condition. These emotions are especially common during the holidays, when people may be experiencing the absence of loved ones who passed or are far away, spending more time with challenging family members whom they typically don’t see, spending time alone due to their circumstances, experiencing financial pressures, getting strong messages from all around that this is a time to celebrate in the face of not feeling in a celebratory mood.

What can we do when we feel blue around the holidays?

I am inspired by and take refuge in the teachings of Rick Hanson, who talks about three ways that we can be with our inner experiences: letting be, letting go, and letting in.

Below is my version of this for meeting and greeting holiday blues:

Let Be

Letting be has to do with accepting things as they are. Sometimes when we fight against what is here—especially our own feelings, or circumstances that we can’t change—it can increase our suffering.

Learning to “let be” in the case of holiday blues might mean being OK with not being OK. You might imagine your emotions like waves at the ocean that come and go. We can’t stop the waves and trying to would only be exhausting. Sometimes the waves are bigger and more turbulent, sometimes they are gentle and rolling, and sometimes the waters might be quite calm. Emotions have their own rhythm, and when we can learn to honor them as they are, there is more ease.

Let Go

Let go of anything, including beliefs, that no longer serve you. Also, let go of self-imposed burdens that you don’t have to carry.

  • Let go of any notions about how you should feel. There is no “right” way to feel.
  • Let go of judging your feelings as good or bad. Remember that all emotions serve a purpose, and we can listen to the needs underneath our feelings (e.g., ask how does this sadness or loneliness want you to be with it?).
  • Let go of trying to do too much. Simplify as much as possible (e.g., I know someone who is choosing to do paper plates and potluck and another who is doing takeout rather than their usual full-on entertaining for the holidays).
  • Let go of having to do things that are truly causing stress for you. If you are not feeling up to going to that holiday party, can it be OK for you to do something for yourself that might feel more nurturing?
  • Let go of worrying about what others think. This is an especially hard one for most of us. Often, we are inaccurate about what others think, and even if not, we don’t have to carry around and internalize other people’s expectations and wishes. Remind yourself that while most people are well-intentioned, they don’t know what it is like to be you and what is best for you. You are the expert of what you need, and you get to honor those needs.

Let In

Let in what truly matters to you and feels nourishing for you.

  • If there are any heartfelt, renewing emotions that are available to sit side-by-side with your sadness (or whatever other difficult emotions you are feeling), you might focus on letting that in. For example, if you are going through a loss, perhaps you might also feel the love and support of those around you who care about you, and you might imagine their support enveloping you like a warm blanket wherever you go.
  • Let in whatever truly is important to you, and find what is meaningful and what aligns with your deepest values. Maybe what would be most nurturing or meaningful for you is to spend time in nature, volunteer in some way, have a simple meal with a friend, or connect to something spiritual that gives you a sense of something greater than you.
  • Take actions that support your needs. Reach out for help (often people are eager to step in and help out when asked). Let others know how you are feeling (e.g., “the holidays are a difficult time for me this year”). Increase your own self-care: Ask on a daily basis, "What would nourish my sense of well-being right now?" Make time for that as much as possible.

No matter how you are feeling at this time of year, remember that you are not alone. Supporting yourself in small ways might just start by giving yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling.

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