The Holiday Blues Are Normal, But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Fun

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Sad young woman using smart phone while lying by Christmas ornaments on the sofa at home

It’s a “holly, jolly” time. But what if it isn’t? Maybe the go, go go of work, family, and shopping has you feeling socially burnt out and financially stretched thin. Or, traditions may be bringing feelings of grief to the surface. And we haven’t even mentioned those 4 p.m. sunsets . . .

Holiday blues, the sads — whatever you want to call it, this time of year can feel heavy for many people. And hey, that’s OK. It’s OK to feel down; it’s OK to just be. “Give yourself permission to show up as you are,” says therapist and burnout coach Abbey Sangmeister, LPC.

But no one wants to feel like the sole Scrooge in a sea of shiny, happy faces, and cutting yourself a break doesn’t clear the packed calendar of challenging obligations. Keep reading for Sangmeister’s top tips for navigating the bustle when you’re not feeling so merry and bright — and maybe even (hopefully) for starting to feel a bit better.

1. Name It to Tame It

Sometimes, identifying your feelings with specificity can give you some comfort — and also help steer you towards the best way to move through them. For instance, “holiday blues and stress can be tied together,” says Sangmeister. But stress and sadness aren’t the same emotion and may require different solutions. “The best way to know if you are dealing with one or the other is to take time to slow down. By slowing down, you can take time to look within.”

Sangmeister points out you may also be suffering from seasonal depression, which can be addressed with some slight behavior changes (but also with just the passing of this cold, dark time). But if it’s chronic depression, your dark mood will continue throughout changes and seasons — and that’s when you will most likely want to call in a pro for support (more about that later).

2. Feel Your Feelings

Sangmeister says her number-one tip in approaching all types of sadness is to “not shove away the ‘sads,’ but embrace them.”

Be patient with yourself; go ahead, be sad if you’re sad. “When we try to push feelings away, they show up at unexpected times or accumulate creating more sadness, anxiety, or even other health conditions,” says Sangmeister.

3. Look for Glimmers

Glimmers are basically the opposite of triggers — they’re small things that remind you of bigger joys.

“Glimmers are moments of joy that you find in a day. When we are feeling sad, it’s often hard to find these, but as we train ourselves to be mindful we can find or even create them,” says Sangmeister. “Focusing on glimmers instead of what’s going wrong in a day can help to shift our mood. When finding glimmers is challenging, ask a friend to share theirs or keep a folder on your phone of past glimmers to look at.”

4. Find an Emotional Outlet

Sangmeister recommends finding ways to let your emotions out — and creating space to lift your spirits, even in the smallest of ways. “This may be by journaling, talking to a professional, looking for glimmers, creating new memories, engaging in an activity you usually love with low expectations, or taking time to rest and recharge,” she says.

If you haven’t tried journaling before, Sangmeister recommends not overthinking it. “Write down whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t even have to focus on the current feeling. . . . Let the emotions and thoughts flow on paper,” she says. If you’re not a go-with-the-flow type of person, “journal prompts can also be a helpful tool to get you started.”

5. Take a Time-Out

It’s OK to need rest. Needing a break does not mean you’re weak — living through sads is living through exhaustion. “Give yourself permission to recharge and take a day or two of rest,” says Sangmeister. “There is nothing wrong with feeling sad and curling up on the couch with a book or watching TV.”

If your sads are related to an event — a specific date, family time, or something else — give yourself permission to build in “buffer days” of rest between the event and going back to your usual routine. “If it becomes days of this and you feel as if you cannot get out of bed, then reach out to a professional for more support,” says Sangmeister.

6. Work With a Professional

Sometimes, it’s best to call in reinforcements — particularly if things aren’t looking up after some time. “Giving yourself permission and space to work with a professional is a great tool to help you work through the sadness, process underlying thoughts and feelings, and develop tools specific to you,” says Sangmeister. “The beauty in working with one is that they have already done the work and know the tools that might best work for you.”

7. Turn On Autopilot

“Sometimes life events happen which of course cause our sadness. It is okay to switch gears and create new traditions,” says Sangmeister. Things do not have to stay the same each year — particularly if it’s making you unhappy.

Sangmeister also recommends going back to those traditions or activities that used to bring you joy, but that you haven’t done in some time (maybe even since when you were a child) — like going sledding with the family or decorating cookies while watching a holiday movie. “I like to suggest keeping the expectations low as it might take a little more to bring us out of our sads, but it’s still a great tool to engage in activities,” she says.

Image Source: Getty / Dmytro Betsenko

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