December 20, 2023

Navigating Sadness During the Holidays

By Jennifer Hu
Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

The holidays can be a challenging time for many. What’s supposed to be a happy, magical, and “most wonderful time of the year” can actually be a season that brings up painful feelings of the past and sadness for many. If you’ve ever felt alone or lonely during this time and wondered why it feels more difficult than usual during this season, know that you are not alone. Sadness during the holiday season is something that we don’t talk about enough. In this article, I’ll walk us through a few reasons why it can be an especially difficult time and ways to cope.

Society’s depiction of the holidays

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the songs playing on the radio and in stores during the holiday months. A huge theme in Christmas and holiday music is love. Holiday movies and TV shows show us couples who are madly in love and families who happily enjoy each other’s company. There are gifts, Santa, stockings, cookies, and lots of quality time spent together. Ads we see during this time of the year often show us people who are happy and enjoying their new car or gadget. It’s how companies convince us to buy the items they’re advertising.

Sadness and loneliness are heightened by what we think the time of the year should be like based on the media we are exposed to. Between ads, music, movies, TV shows, and what our culture tells us about this time of the year, it makes sense that we would be led to believe the message that I must be happy and of good cheer during the holidays and if I’m not, something’s wrong with me or my life.

Shortened winter days

On top of movies, music, and ads that tell us we must be happy and in love, the days are also at their shortest. Christmas and New Year’s are right around the winter solstice, a time of the year when the days are short and the nights are long. The weather is colder and, in many parts of the world, we can’t go outside and engage in physical activity like we could in the summer, spring, or fall. This lack of sunlight and less opportunities to move can exacerbate our sadness. Research shows that we need a healthy dose of vitamin D and ample daily physical activity to support our mental health. The holiday season can be extra difficult because of the changes in weather and shorter days.

Navigating familial interactions

The holiday season can be challenging as it relates to interacting with our family. For some of us, we aren’t close to our families. Others have a strained relationship with their family. The holidays can remind us of someone we lost or the family we never got to have for those who have lost a loved one or are struggling with infertility or a miscarriage. Being around family members that we normally don’t spend time with and deciding plans can bring up conflict, as different personalities are in the same space, and compromises must be made. Even though we’re around people, we can feel lonely. We feel tension and sadness during this time of the year for many reasons, and it can be overwhelming.

Ways to cope

If you resonated with anything in this so far, know that you’re not alone. One of the best ways to find comfort and feel better is to know that feeling sadness around the holiday season is normal. It can be a difficult time for many people, and you are definitely not crazy or weird if you don’t particularly enjoy this season.

  • Reach out to your support system. Whether it’s a phone call or text, Zoom call or Facetime, in person or not. Even though it’s easy to want to withdraw and isolate during the coldest part of the year, it can be helpful for our mental health to engage in social interaction with the people we care about and who care about us.
  • Get cozy indoors – light a candle, read a book, start a new hobby, or watch a show or movie. If you’re not able to go outdoors for long, focus on how you can spend your time meaningfully indoors.
  • Remind yourself that the ads and movies only depict a certain kind of happiness to sell you something. No one’s life looks exactly like that, and what they’re depicting isn’t the standard.
  • Journal about how you feel and look back on the year. How did your year go? Did it go as you thought it would? What parts are ones you want to hold onto? What are moments you could do without? What did you learn this year? One journaling idea could be to write a letter to yourself from one year ago.
  • Light therapy – it’s one of the best ways to treat seasonal affective disorder and to substitute for the lack of real sun. Try to get sunlight whenever possible, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Move your body – indoor yoga, workout videos online, indoor recreational sports like volleyball and basketball, Pilates.
  • Listen to sad music – it may seem strange, but ironically, research shows that listening to sad music can help us feel better when we’re feeling down.

Reach Out

The winter and holiday months can be challenging to navigate. We’re told that we need to feel a certain way, from the music we listen to, to the happy families and couples we see in movies and advertisements. Dealing with family and making plans can be stressful. There are ways to cope and small adjustments we can make within ourselves and our routines that can make all the difference. Sadness is normal and is part of being human. Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, know that your feelings deserve to be felt and honored. You are not alone in what you’re going through; the holidays can be what you make of them.



Written By

Jennifer Hu

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