There are many reasons why the holidays might make some people feel sad or lonely. If you have experienced a recent loss like a break up, divorce, or death of a family member, friend, or pet, then you are at heightened risk for experiencing sadness and depression during the holidays. The holidays are designated family and “together times” so if you do not have anyone, this can easily become one of the most challenging times of the year for you. Financial strain and stress also might be a major contributing factor to anxiety and low mood during this time. Especially for individuals who derive the majority of their sense of self worth from work success, difficulties at work or with finances can greatly increase the risk of depression. In addition, many people have time off from work during the holidays and the lack of routine and losing the sense of competence and accomplishment that work might give you can also cause a dip in mood.
The key to combatting sadness and depression during the holiday season, is to plan ahead and do things that have worked for you historically. If you would like to use a new skill, practice it in advance as trying something out for the first time when you're already feeling down makes coping even more difficult.
12 Tips for combatting sadness during the holidays
1. Practice acceptance that you might feel sad or lonely during the holidays. The holidays can be an especially lonely time and can increase sadness and symptoms of depression. There is a societal expectation or pressure to be happy and revel in the holiday spirit. That expectation itself may make someone struggling with loneliness or depression feel even worse because they may get mad at themselves for not being able to “snap out of it.” This being said, it is very important to give yourself permission to feel sadness or loneliness. When people try to avoid emotions or tell themselves that it is not ok to feel a certain way, that very emotion inevitably intensifies, plus there is often added frustration that you cannot will yourself to feel differently. It is also helpful to have a level of acceptance of your emotions because then your emotions do not catch you off guard. Remind yourself that it is ok to feel different emotions, including sadness, and experiencing a range of emotions only makes you human not a (insert self-deprecating adjective here) person.
2. Up your self-care by going back to basics like sleep and diet. Take a look at your sleep and eating habits and make a concerted effort to go to sleep at the same time each night and have a consistent wake up time. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, practice good sleep hygiene and avoid things that are activating before bed such as checking your work email or watching the news, and instead do something that you find relaxing. When you get up for the day, even if you do not have anywhere to be, open the shades and turn on the lights, take a shower, and get dressed. Focus on having three balanced meals and two snacks and try not to go more than three hours without eating something as that will help you keep your blood sugar levels even.
3. Self-soothe using the five senses: get in your comfiest sweater or snuggle under a blanket, burn your favorite scented candle, eat or drink something soothing like hot cocoa or herbal tea, look at artwork or pretty landscapes online, listen to music that comforts you or is uplifting
4. Reach out to others. Plan ahead to access the supports that you have, Plan to spend time with friends or talk to them on the phone.
5. Limit your time on social media as it may make you feel even more down to compare yourself to others who look like they’re having the time of their life during the holidays
6. Exercise helps combat depression and sadness. You will release endorphins, feel a sense of accomplishment once you have completed your workout, and doing the opposite of what your sadness is pulling you to do (such as isolate yourself and lay on the couch all day) will help decrease the intensity of that emotion if not turn it around altogether. If you have a regular exercise routine, now is not the time to slack off or change it. If you have been trying to get back to the gym after a hiatus that was forced by work getting hectic or just not feeling motivated, set small goals for yourself like 5 minutes at a time, or just get yourself to the gym to start.
7. Contributing to others can not only give you a sense of accomplishment but it also might just make you feel a bit better. Look into local volunteer opportunities. While it can be very helpful to be with others and volunteer together, if that just feels like too much, volunteer virtually. Check out Operation Warm for some ideas: https://www.operationwarm.org/blog/25-volunteer-jobs-to-do-from-home/
8. If you notice yourself struggling with depression, early intervention is especially important. Consider beginning therapy. This can be challenging during the holidays as many therapists are on vacation and are experiencing their highest volume of calls from people who want to start treatment. Online therapy with a credentialed mental health professional might be a good option. Check with your health insurance to find out what telehealth company they are contracted with. You may have a better shot getting an appointment with one of the therapists through a telehealth company and you don't need to worry about travel time and other difficulties associated with scheduling to get to an appointment.
9. If you will be alone and you can afford to do so, plan a vacation in advance. Preferably go someplace warm and with plenty of sunlight where you can be active.
10. If you also tend to struggle with seasonal depression, consider a light therapy box for a mood boost. Keep in mind that the decreased hours of sunshine during the day give your mood an extra hit.
11. If this is your first holiday season after the loss of a loved one, be deliberate about taking time to honor that person in some way. All emotions naturally rise and fall on their own, and it is only by trying to avoid them or push them away that you will end up perpetuating the emotion.
12. Remind yourself that the holiday season is temporary.