Holiday Blues: Breaking the Rules and Finding Relief

A kayak is sitting on a sandy beach, a few yards away from the water.Every year there is a great deal of talk in the media about holiday depression and how to cope with it. They talk about many important factors—financial fears, over-eating, over-drinking, being around family members who’ve hurt you, dark, cold gloomy weather, grief about not being with people who’ve died or left, stress, and disappointment.

They tell you to exercise, don’t over-eat or over-drink, to set realistic expectations, not to over-extend in what you offer to do. All of this is true and sound advice. I don’t think it’s useful for me to rehash this, because anyone can read all about these ideas all over the Internet.  So what do I have to add?

How about breaking some rules? Not to replace all this good advice, but to consider adding to it.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone, and we all have to decide for ourselves what is most likely to land us on our feet in March—after the holidays, their aftermath, and the worst of the winter gloom have passed. But sometimes, for some people, breaking the rules helps.

What rules, you wonder? How about the rule that you spend the holidays with your family of origin? Many people would survive the holidays better if they dared not to follow the tradition or expectation or habit and instead celebrate with hand-picked, dear friends, or by volunteering to help people, or by leaving town and doing something fun.  If when you imagine doing something besides seeing your family of origin, your body and mood feel lighter, it’s probably a sign that you need to break this rule.

What other rules could you break and feel better as a result? How about not cooking, or cooking something completely nontraditional, rather than “holiday food?” How about doing something you’ve always wanted to do, instead of what you usually do? Or spend a holiday watching every episode of your favorite TV show on DVD, or every movie Jim Carry’s ever made? What about giving hugs instead of presents, or knocking on the door of someone in your neighborhood you don’t know and bringing them groceries?

In this situation, like many, perspective can help. Perspective is one of the most powerful tools for developing happiness. A few ways I like to re-connect with perspective include:

  1. Looking at a full sky of stars (or thinking about one, if you’re too inundated by city lights), and thinking about how nano-tiny what I am experiencing is, right now at this moment, in comparison to all of time and all of space.
  2. Thinking about how I would see what’s happening if I knew I would die in six months, yet were healthy enough to do whatever I wanted.
  3. Watching the movie, Harold and Maude and trying to see the world from Maude’s perspective—freedom from rules—she rescues a city tree to plant it in the woods; she gets an engagement ring and delightfully throws it into the ocean so she knows “just where it is.”

Sometimes perspective can help you imagine what rules to break. As long as you don’t do any harm, and it makes you feel good without negative consequences, why not figure out what rules are keeping you bound in feeling unhappy, and try breaking them to meet the challenge of your holiday season? It may not solve all your challenges, but it might give you a significant break.

© Copyright 2010 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sammy

    December 6th, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    Hmm…an interesting suggestion that…going against the usual and seeing if that makes you feel better…maybe I will try this this holiday season. I’ve been doing the usual stuff ever year and honestly speaking it has now become boring…thank you for the ideas.

  • Cynthia Lubow, MFT

    December 16th, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    Great–let us know what happens!

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