The holiday season begs us to be filled with cheer, joy, and merriness.  Houses have been decorated with lights and wreaths, there are parties, school plays, gifts to buy, and Christmas music playing in every store.  There is no escaping the fact that the holidays are in full force.  We’re supposed to be happy and eager to enjoy everything that is going on.  But amidst the decorations and festivities, this time of year can be hard.  Things don’t always feel merry and bright, and the struggles of life don’t simply fade away because it’s the holiday season.  Feelings of loneliness, grief, sorrow, frustration, anger, desperation or even failure still hang in the air, and these feelings may overshadow everything else that’s going on.  

In 2016, my family opened presents and ate Christmas dinner at a rehab facility with my grandmother knowing that it would be our last Christmas with her.  Soon after, she was placed under hospice care and died a few weeks later.  Our first Christmas without her felt strange, and frankly, not so merry.  My mom and aunts didn’t want to celebrate Christmas like we normally did, worried that it would be too hard and too poignant of a reminder that she was gone.  

This holiday season, you may find yourself missing a loved one for the first time.   Or maybe you find yourself facing an unwanted illness or diagnosis. A miscarriage, divorce, uncertainty about a job, or the lingering effects of Covid-19 may leave you feeling blue or out of sorts. Perhaps nothing specific has happened, but you have a general feeling that things aren’t right in the world.  This year has been a hard one.  We’ve had mass shootings, catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes, and there is a growing divide in our country that has left many feeling hopeless.  All of these events give way to a heavy heart reminding us that there is pain, grief, and fear in our lives.  

No one wants to be the debbie-downer or scrooge that voices their struggles in the middle of this joyful time, so what do we do?  We don’t talk about them.  We put on a smile and trudge through, suffering alone.  Or, we pretend that everything is okay.  If you find yourself in this place, I want to offer what I hope will be some helpful advice on how to make it through this season.  

But first, I want to validate that it’s okay to feel blue or down.  You have full permission to feel and express whatever emotions may be dwelling inside you, even though it may feel like you’re going against the grain.  You are allowed to grieve, to feel anxious or depressed, or to simply feel bleh. You are not required to put on a happy face for the sake of others.

Some holiday advice: 

  1. Pay attention to what you need.  There may be times this season where being alone is the best thing for you, but maybe what you need is to push yourself to get out of the house and be around others.  I’m a big fan of alone time, but I also know that too much isolation can lead to increased depression or anxiety.  It’s okay to avoid some things that feel too difficult, but try to really ask yourself what you need in the moment, and lean into that.
  2. Lean into your feelings.  We have a habit of trying to push away or minimize unpleasant emotions like sadness, loneliness, or anxiety, but that doesn’t mean those feelings go away.  In fact, ignoring them may just make them pop up more.  Try to acknowledge what you’re feeling, tell yourself it’s okay, and then determine what the best thing for you is at that moment.  Maybe it’s journaling, calling a friend, having a good cry, or going on a walk. It sounds weird, but make friends with your feelings and see how engaging them can change your relationship to them.  
  3. Seek out comfort from others.  Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, clergy person, or a trained professional.  I hear many clients say, “I don’t want to burden someone with this”, so they end up carrying a lot on their own.  I tend to ask them, if your friend or relative was in your position, would you want them to reach out to you?  They almost always answer, yes.  Give yourself a little nudge to reach out to someone you think will be supportive and caring.  If sharing with a friend or family member feels like too much, consider seeking out a therapist who can offer support and guidance.
  4. Do something for others.  Consider donating to a charity in memory of someone, adopt a family, or spend some time volunteering at a local non-profit.  Giving to others is mutually beneficial and may help to lift your spirits.  It may also help you to find a nugget of joy amidst the pain or gloom.  
  5. Create a new tradition or ritual.  If you feel the temptation to “cancel” the holidays, consider how you might tweak something instead to accommodate your current situation.  Traditions and ritual help ground us and connect us to others, so try to keep what feels doable, and tweak what doesn’t.

I hope these tidbits are helpful, and if you find yourself curious about professional help, feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment or a consultation call with me here.

Grace Guyton is a therapist in training, pursuing her License in Marriage and Family Therapy. Grace sees individuals and couples in her Atlanta therapy practice, and helps people dealing with stress & anxiety, family issues, boundaries, and grief. To learn more about Grace Guyton, visit her bio page here.