Dealing with Deep Sadness During the Holidays

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Holidays aren’t always joyful, blissful, nor magical. Instead, they can mark a season of not just situational stress and sadness — but one of deep melancholy. 

There are many reasons that can contribute to holiday depression. Some factors include dysfunctional family dynamics (which are often thrown in one’s face more often during holiday get-togethers), unrealistic expectations of holiday merriment, financial issues, the loss of a loved one, and the year’s-end introspection about whether one’s goals have come to fruition — or not.

Through all of one’s individual reasons why sadness can descend during the holidays, there is also a general presumption that it “tis,” indeed, “the season to be jolly,” fed to us by advertisers, holiday-themed movies and TV shows, the bright-light cheer draped over neighborhoods and storefronts — not to mention the constant jubilation of holiday tunes blasting over our airwaves. 

During the holiday season, then, one’s own personal despair often clashes with our culture’s ongoing message of joy and mirth. It’s as if one is caught in a crazy-making world that can make one’s inner feelings seem as if they are in direct opposition with almost everyone — and everything around them. 

As a person who experiences deep holiday melancholy myself, I understand how this juxtaposition can deepen one’s inner sadness. Through the years, though, I’ve learned how to stave it off before it pulls me under. Below are two of my favorite techniques, which I hope can help you, dear readers, as well. 

Balance Inner Emotions with Being Out in the World:

I know the old adage that if you’re feeling down, smile — and fake it — until you actually “make it.” And… I get it. Sometimes that really does work. When I’ve been depressed and still pushed myself to go to a holiday party, I have ended up feeling better to have gotten out of my dome of doom after socializing with others. 

Yet, what does NOT work is to deny one’s true feelings, because then they can bubble up in inappropriate ways, such as snapping irritably at loved ones or honking not just once — but maybe even three (!) times in a row at a car who cut you off (which, much to my family’s chagrin, I’ve been known to do on one too many of occasions when stressed). Also, in the long run, trying to push down emotions can make them linger far longer than if you had allowed yourself to process them as they came up. 

What does work is balance. First, recognize your true feelings. Let yourself cry. Vent to your best friend. See a therapist if you’re so overwhelmed that it seems as if there’s no way out. When you have the time and space, you may even want to play some sad music to help release the tears. And then, when you are out in the world, focus on other people, ask them what’s going on in their lives, how are they feeling, maybe even commiserate about how stressful the season can be. It’s about balancing your inner and outer life in such a way that you’re aware of your own feelings as you reach out to others.  

Channel Your Inner Rebel:

Oftentimes, the holidays can push our obligation and guilt limits so far out, that we feel as if we have to agree to things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. How many of you have heard “But it’s Christmastime!” when your partner asks if some distant relative or friend (whom you don’t even like or trust) can stay a couple of days? How many times have you felt obligated to buy presents that are out of your budget? How many times have you forgone your usual exercise and diet routine in order to “join in the merriment”?

When you’re dealing with depression, these obligations and guilt trips can make it that much worse. So, what can you do? Call forth your inner rebel. And I don’t mean that in the James Dean style of taking a long drag from a cigarette and racing your car down the highway. I mean the kind of inner rebel that takes pride in thumbing its nose at tradition and expectations in a healthy way, one that it gives you permission to take care of yourself.  

Your inner rebel can help you say no to certain houseguests (or at least limit their time), get more creative with budget-friendly present buying (thrift store treasures, anyone?), exercise to a YouTube video before you go to that holiday party (even it’s going to make you a tad late), and push away that second slice of Grandpa’s rum cake (even though he may furrow his brow at you). 

And last, but not least, balancing your true emotions while reaching out to others, as well as tuning into your inner rebel, may also remind you that no one’s holidays (or lives, for that matter) can ever match the nostalgic harmony of “Little House on the Prairie.” Holiday melancholy or not, no one has the perfect family — nor experiences the perfect holiday season. 

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