When Your Tidings are not Glad, it Can Just Feel Sad
A Season of Sad Things
The holidays can be difficult. Some of us are alone or isolated. Others feel painful feelings of grief and loss or experience mental illness. Some may have a job or a life we are not happy with, or we may have no job. Or we feel unable to match the holiday of our memories.
I recall the Christmases when one grandparent died, then the other, and then later my father. Presents cannot fill the gap when we lose people. Other family and friends may come around us, but things are not the same when we lose loved ones.
Every store you walk into bases its holiday campaign on mood-altering slogans like “Holiday Joy” and “Make Merry.” Businesses want you and I to feel happy so that we are more easily separated from our hard earned cash.
For many people, the holiday season is a difficult one. Sadness fills our minds and treasured memories only remind us of the losses.
What Can You Do if You Feel Sad and Confused During the Holidays?
- Don’t worry, be happy?
For starters, accept what you cannot change. Some people make it their aim to get you to be happy. You may even tell yourself, “Just be happy!” What we know about mood is that telling yourself, or someone else, to be happy cannot change how we feel.
Other people may seem so happy, but know that each person has a mix of moods. You are not alone. If you guilt yourself for feeling sad, that will only add to your burdens. Self acceptance may be the greatest gift that you give to yourself this season.
- Seasonal moods
Each season of the year can remind you or I of hard things that we may have encountered. It is no accident that Seasonal Affective Disorder exists. Seasons of the year can be especially hard and most professionals recognize that specific times of the calendar year can be challenging. You may struggle in the dark winter months, at anniversaries of losses or with other seasonal issues.
If your moods or low times seem to repeat during one particular season, talking to a Doctor or a Mental Health Professional can be another powerful gift that you unwrap this season.
The 12 Gifts That Will Help You With Your Holiday Sadness
I have compiled a menu of ideas for when you feel sad during the holiday season. Just pick one and begin there.
- Accept yourself and where you are at, whether you are in a difficult season or a lasting situation.
I will never have the home and family situation that my parents had, my home is smaller and we are geographically far away from our extended family. You and I face things that we cannot change. But what we can do is choose how we respond to our life situation.
If your goal is to release yourself from self-judgment, make a list of things that you want to continue doing and continue being. Put it on paper, so the list is visual and concrete. Remember that you matter to the people in your life.
- Plan for comfort. Planning self-care experiences every day is especially important when you feel stress or emotional pain.
Self care does not have to mean a massage or getting away for the weekend. It can be as simple as a calm cup of coffee, a bath, or time to read or meditate.
- Choose healthy ways to cope. Unhealthy habits can shift a difficult season into a destructive season: alcohol, watching TV, over eating, not exercising, or isolation. The trouble is that these are the hallmarks of the season – overindulgence, parties, and passive entertainment. (And add a sprinkling of holiday guilt for not doing enough and it can be a real downer!)
Be mindful of how these behaviors affect your mood. Healthy coping can include: spending more time with friends, telling someone how you are feeling, not eating or drinking alone when triggered, planning time for gentle exercise (like walking), and being around pets (visit with friends who have pets, or visit your local SPCA).
- Honor the person you have lost. Loss can feel endless and may erode the joy of any event in our lives. When you are ready, do something in honor of the person who has died, or in remembrance of a relationship you miss. It could mean giving a gift in a person’s name, doing something kind to someone they cared for, or visiting a special place in their memory. If the loss is a negative one, it is still important to honor the strength in yourself that makes you resilient.
Make a list of the ways you are strong, or create something that represents an aspect of your strength (see #10).
- Say “No!” Limit time with negative people and eliminate trolls from your social media and personal life. The people we surround ourselves with can make a significant difference in our own level of happiness and our well-being.
- Set limits on parties. You may need to attend work or other holiday social events. If you find it overwhelming, take a pass. Or you can go for a set time, or limit the number of people you will connect (ie: one or two friends), or bring a wing man or woman to be by your side.
- Take time to sleep and rest. Plan for down time or time to relax. Stress can be exhausting. We recuperate by sleeping and having time to relax.
- Be mindful and give thanks. Use a thankfulness journal or reflect on three things you have experienced each day that make you feel grateful. For more on mindfulness, see my article How a Cup of Coffee May Help You to Get Your Mind Back.
- Volunteer or give a gift of joy to another person. Volunteering can be a lifeline if you feel lonely. You can also practice micro acts of kindness: Open doors for others, wish them well, buy someone an unexpected coffee or some other acts of unexpected kindnesses. Miracles can happen when we focus on another person, even for a few moments.
- Be creative, whatever that means for you. Your creativity may include baking, drawing, writing, music or building. Creativity is powerful and it can can change your focus from sadness to hope. The key is to just be in the moment and concentrate on creating. Shifting our attention can shift our moods.
- Take a break. Maybe the Christmas season is too hard this year. Put up a smaller tree or just a few ornaments. Don’t push yourself if it is too hard. Sometimes one of the best things can be to give ourselves permission to just be where we are at. Taking a break is not giving up. It is the opposite, letting yourself relax so that you can re-start things.
- Take permission for a reset. You don’t have to wait for New Year’s day to reset. If you ate too much yesterday, have a reset today. Get up and move more, go for a walk or clean up the house. Moving can change your mood. The most effective way to do a reset is not to recommit to changing your entire life: Reset by doing one thing different.
Bonus: Reach out and get help. This can be even harder when you feel pressure to feel happy. Seeing a therapist can help to change your mood because you literally share your burdens with another person. You may face seasonal moods and seeing a doctor or therapist can provide the support that you need.
At the Good Men Project, we are having the conversation that no one else is having about what matters most to you. Join us! I would love to hear your story of how you cope with your holiday sadness.
This season, I wish you Unexpected Kindness. If you are in the mood for some holiday humor, see my piece from earlier today, Christmas, Five Friends and a Troll.
Keep it Real
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Photo by Jake Stimpson