Yes, It’s O.K. to Be Sad During the Holidays

December 23, 2019 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

This article by Marissa Miller in The New York Times is timely.

Yes, It’s O.K. to Be Sad During the Holidays

Sometimes the holiday spirit just passes us by, and that’s perfectly normal.

All I want for Christmas is a nap.

The more I try to get into the holiday spirit — you know, the way everyone else seems to be — the sadder and more anxious I become.

“Forced happiness makes us feel more sad, upset and lonely because we are faking our feelings,” said Dr. Judith Orloff, author of “Thriving as an Empath.”

“Putting on a false front to impress others or prove to them how fine we really are can make us feel like a total impostor,” he said.


Feeling like a sad sack of coal during the holidays is far from unusual. Between the crowds, dwindling bank accounts and tundralike weather (not to mention the short window of sunlight), it’s a wonder any of us can keep it together.

But it’s important to keep in mind that feeling this way is nothing unique — or even new. In 1985, this very news outlet was on the case of the holiday blues: “This type of depression, caused by unrealistic expectations, frequently occurs at holiday times,” The Times wrote, adding that “the holidays often create situations that cause people to feel sad.”

Of course, having unrealistic expectations is only one reason to feel down during the dark winter months. The holidays can cause family rifts to rear up as folks gather around the dinner table. Something as simple as your circadian rhythm being thrown off by the dwindling sunlight might be the culprit. Or even just the common misapprehension of, Everyone is having a great time but me, can be enough to send us tumbling.

But don’t despair. If the holidays have you feeling down, here are a few ideas that could help.

No one is having the ‘perfect’ holiday season

While “Your tribe is your vibe” might sound trite, it rings especially true during the holidays. If a certain friend or group of friends is pushing the holiday agenda too far for your comfort — “Oh, you want to go another holiday lights show?” — consider tactfully declining those activities, or suggesting others that might brighten everyone’s spirits.

On the other hand, if a friend’s Instagram makes it looks as if he’s having all of the holiday fun and you’re not, simply mute him on social media for the time being. And, most important, if your holiday-induced FOMO is what’s getting you down, remember: Social media is not real life.

Some people “desperately want others to think they’re happy and O.K., so they overcompensate with beaming too much of a smile, being too bubbly or seeming inauthentically happy so the happiness doesn’t feel real,” Dr. Orloff said.

Translation: Yes, the holidays can be basically one giant Instagram filter.

If you can’t get out of a dreaded social event, Dr. Orloff suggests keeping your appearance short. Before the gathering, identify your emotional triggers along with the people who tend to drain your energy. This can give you a better sense of direction once you walk into the room, so you’re able to strategically plan those “bathroom breaks” when you’re really meditating or texting a friend.

Create your own happiness

Only once you’ve found the source of your sadness can you reasonably find joy, according to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Negative emotions are tools that guide you to feel better. Ask yourself pointed questions, like: “Given that I feel this negative emotion, are there ways I can do something in my own circumstance that can make me feel better?”


For example: If the holidays remind you of a family member who has died, Ms. Rubin suggests deciding whether it feels more comforting to honor that person with a tradition you once shared, or to break free from the past. Or, let’s say you haven’t received invitations to events and feel left out. Create your own and invite only those whose company you enjoy, or plan an office party to lift morale, Ms. Rubin said. Take the pressure off by focusing on connecting with friends or family, as opposed to following traditions of the holidays. If you feel guilty about abstaining from festivities altogether, Ms. Rubin suggested making a list of five priorities you can accomplish to give your holiday season purpose in a way that feels meaningful to you.

“In my observation, it’s helpful to try to be as specific as possible about why you’re having negative emotions. If you’re sad because you want to make friends, going to a holiday party would be helpful,” Ms. Rubin said.

Research from the scientific journal Nature Communications found that performing acts of generosity stimulate the reward system in the brain, brightening not only your day, but someone else’s, too. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate funds and resources to a homeless shelter or buy lunch for a friend just because, Dr. Orloff suggests. You never know who you’ll meet, or what sort of positive emotions you’ll find along the way.

Find the family that suits you

Lane Moore, author of “How to Be Alone,” warns that holiday alone time can feel “infinitely more painful” than your everyday solitude, since it can stoke the feeling that one doesn’t have the family one is “supposed to have.” If you don’t come from a typical family structure, realize that families that look perfect from the outside all experience their own set of struggles, she said.

Physical loneliness over the holidays doesn’t preclude you from finding emotional support elsewhere. Create your own temporary family on message boards or social media comprising folks in similar situations. Ms. Moore said she finds it cathartic to share her own experiences with loneliness over the holidays on Twitter. In response, she receives an influx of messages from followers in similar situations. You might just find that shared loneliness negates the loneliness altogether.


“It’s about tapping into what you truly need, which if you usually numb out your own needs can be hard to know,” Ms. Moore said.

The great part about practicing JOMO — the joy of missing out, and FOMO’s lackadaisical counterpart — is that you’re not around to absorb other people’s negative energy, which can be draining, Dr. Orloff said. Embrace it. Sit with it. Offer it a Hanukkah latke. It might just be your Golden Ticket to happiness after all.

Just the blues, or something more?

Feeling blue and being depressed are not the same thing. Those who experience the blues, according to Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia, are able to remind themselves that their feelings of sorrow, alienation and loneliness will subside once they resume their normal routines.

“They will go back to work, and the forced fun will be over,” she said. Depression, on the other hand, may manifest itself as destructive behaviors to mask the chronic pain, like increased drug and alcohol use, promiscuity or gambling, she said, adding that depression can come with feelings of hopelessness or denial about the situation.

Whether it’s clinical depression or just the holiday blues — what Dr. Hafeez calls “situational depression” — counseling or a 12-step program to treat addiction can help. The problem with treating depression during the holiday season, Dr. Hafeez said, is that like many professionals, mental health care providers might be on vacation, leading to a delay or interruption in treatment. She recommends trying apps like Health Through Breath, Secret of Happiness, Depression CBT Self-Help Guide, N.I.H. Depression Information and FitnessBuilder for temporary support, or attending a Meetup Group to connect with like-minded people. However, if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, or having thoughts of suicide, go to an emergency room, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness site ( for additional resources.

Yes, It’s O.K. to Be Sad During the Holidays (The New York Times, November 21, 2019).

Yes, It’s O.K. to Be Sad During the Holidays was last modified: December 9th, 2019 by K.O. Herston

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