- Written by Victor M. Parachin Victor M. Parachin
Though the December holiday season inspires feelings of warmth, belonging, connection, and joy for many people, there are other individuals for whom the month is one of increased stress, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
Their experience is called a “blue” Christmas, something described by the online Urban Dictionary this way: “It means to have a sad Christmas, perhaps because you are away from family or alone or even filled with thoughts of a happier time that bring tears to your eye. Blue is a symbolic color for [sadness].”
While there is no single reason why many experience holiday depression, the month does seem to contain these triggers for sadness: family conflict and dysfunction, heightened feelings of loneliness, additional expense, travel, unrealistic happiness expectations, changes in diet, and increasingly cold, dark winter days.
Of course, the most challenging of holiday issues is the “empty chair,” memories of a loved one who has died during the previous months.
Here are three tips for dealing with holiday sadness.
1. Plan ahead. Rather than stumble into December and be manipulated by the many events and pressures of the month, pause and plan for the best way to be engaged with holiday festivities.
During this season of COVID-19, it is also important to follow carefully the CDC guidelines as well as those of your state when it comes to in-person gatherings.
Conduct an examination of your feelings and thoughts by asking these types of questions:
• Whom do I want to be with?
• Do I need to be at this event?
• Which person(s) would be best kept at a distance?
• How much money is realistic for me to spend?
• Which gatherings do I truly wish to participate in?
• What steps can I take to maintain balance this month?
• Do I really need to travel this long distance to be with family and friends?
• Can I gather safely in person and maintain social distancing recommendations?
Raising and responding to these types of inquiries will create holiday clarity and guide you to experience the month in a way that is most beneficial. Establishing your boundaries will empower you to respond skillfully to any individual who protests or challenges your decision by saying, “Of course you’ll be there!”
2. Practice self-care. Here are the two huge reasons why self-care is especially important in December.
First, the month is filled with more social obligations than normal. Those often lead to overeating and overdrinking.
Second, there are many additional year-end work and home responsibilities. The very routines that keep you healthy and happy can easily drift away, increasing your levels of anxiety, stress, and sadness.
Take care of yourself — don’t overeat and overdrink, advises psychiatrist Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts.
“Do your regular routines of exercise and whatever keeps you together during the year,” he adds.
As much as possible, maintain your diet, schedule, and routine. If you’ve agreed to attend several social events, be intentional and careful about how much you will eat or drink.
And be certain that you get enough sleep. Waking up tired or exhausted every day will only add to your fatigue, reduce your energy level, and lower your resistance to getting sick.
3. Engage in spiritual practices to restore your spirit. Give yourself some quality quiet time for prayer or meditation, or read literature that inspires you and feeds your spirit.
Maintaining spiritual strength will prevent you from becoming easily upset by events and frustrated by people, and it will help prevent your mind from magnifying small issues into major tensions.
You can’t control and prevent unpleasant experiences from emerging, but you can control how you respond.
Finally, honor and accept your feelings as they emerge during December, but don’t allow them to drive you deeply into hopelessness and despair. Manage your feelings rather than have them manage you.
By doing that, you will keep the door of your life open for joy that comes your way and joy that you can bring to others.
Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.