When Sadness and Grief Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

stressed and sad person at holidaysThis time of year is overflowing with bright lights, holiday parties, and a lot of hustle and bustle. Not everyone is joyous or excited about the season, however. Whether it is due to the cold and darkness of winter, a recent job loss or unemployment, the end of a relationship, or the death of a loved one, there are many reasons people struggle at this time of year.

One of the most difficult things about grief and sadness is watching the world move on while yours has been forever altered. How can you be expected to be excited about a holiday when it is the first one without your partner, sibling, child, or friend? It is hard to even imagine celebrating when you mostly feel sadness and grief. Even if it has been several years since the passing of a loved one, the holidays may still be difficult, as it is another celebration without someone special.

The experience of grief and depression during the holidays is real and experienced by more people than you may realize. Some of those engaged in the festivities may be struggling just as much as those sitting them out. So what can you do aside from wishing January 2 would hurry up and arrive? There are real ways to manage the sadness, grief, and depression of this time.

First, start by acknowledging your feelings. There is great power in speaking what is rather than keeping it bottled up inside. Tell a friend, a coworker, or anyone you trust that you are having a hard time and this season is especially difficult for you. Not only will you likely feel better, but in sharing you also open up a source of support. When people know that this time of year is sad for you, they may touch base more frequently, ask you what you need, and be supportive throughout the season.

Second, though it may be tempting, stay away from alcohol or limit yourself to one drink. Whether it’s a social lubricant or a way to take the edge off, drinking too much alcohol can send you deeper into sadness and grief. And while intoxicated, you will not have the ability to use any healthy coping skills to get you through the difficult moments.

Next, consider changing the tradition and celebrating differently. Traditions are important and give us a touchstone each year. But with death and the inevitable changing nature of life, traditions may also need to adjust and change over time. Perhaps you reserve a seat at the table for the person(s) who died, incorporate the deceased’s favorite dish into the meal, or perhaps you consider going somewhere else for the holiday.

If you are unemployed, underemployed, or are facing a sudden layoff, while others are busily and excitedly shopping for presents and decorations you may be concerned with paying the grocery and heating bills. If you traditionally spend a lot of money at this time of year, you will need to change that tradition. Consider hosting a potluck meal rather than paying for the entirety of it. Or create presents based on time rather than things. For example, you might offer your time babysitting for a friend or family member.

Finally, there is always the option not to celebrate at all. This does not mean being the office or neighborhood Grinch. You’re simply deciding that you do not want to celebrate the holidays this year. You can reach out to others who may share this feeling and spend time together. Host a movie night or television-show binge rather than a holiday celebration. Find something that will bring you joy and allow you to enjoy your day.

Though you may feel sadness and darkness right now, know that these emotions and circumstances will shift and change. Joy, warmth, and light will return to you. Until it does, connect with others and rely on the support they offer.

May you have a light-filled season and New Year!

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

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  • Cammie

    Cammie

    December 19th, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    The one thing that I have always tried to tell myself is that this too shall pass, and there will come a moment where you can see sunlight again even if it does not feel like that right now. There will be dark days if you have suffered pain and loss this year, and there will be times when this is made all the more acute because it is so close to the holiday season. But just know that if you are missing loved ones, they are somewhere better looking down on you and one day you shall be reunited.

  • Sue

    Sue

    December 19th, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    This has always been a hard time of year but this years even more so because I lost my job last month and now I don’t have any idea of how I am going to get anything for anyone!

    I think that they are all pretty understanding that this is going to be a pretty lean year, but still, that doesn’t make things any easier for me.

  • abigail

    abigail

    December 19th, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Why hide what you are feeling? How will anyone ever know that you need some help from them if you mask everything that you really feel? be open and honest, this alone is one way to get a huge burden off of your chest and to feel much much better.

  • jackie

    jackie

    December 20th, 2014 at 5:49 PM

    I would hate to spend the holiday season, truly the most blessed and glorious time of the year, stewing in my grief and sadness.
    For me, and things are not always rosy all of the time for me either so please do not get that idea, but for me this is precious time not to be wasted. There are plenty enough days in the year for that.
    this is the time to be grateful and thankful for what we have, and that is what I certainly plan to do.

  • VIC

    VIC

    December 21st, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    There are too many good things to focus on the bad… but then again I have never been so despondent that I have felt like nothing would ever break through.

    But I have known others in my life who have allowed it to take the joy out of everything that they do, and I am almost ashamed to say that I did have to leave them for a while because it got to be too much for me to deal with.

    Then I think, they need me, if not now then when? So I try to be a part of that life and lift them up instead of giving them yet another thing to be morose about.

  • Mike

    Mike

    December 22nd, 2014 at 4:09 AM

    Thanks for this wonderful article. You seem to have real empathy for those who experience grief and sadness at the holiday times, and many creative suggestions. I’m unemployed and on disability, so instead of giving expensive presents I’ve started to make “mix CDs” — burn a CD with some of my favorite music, arranged in an effective order, custom-made for the giftee. It’s a creative activity for me and a gift of my time and values.

  • nata

    nata

    December 22nd, 2014 at 4:16 AM

    you say that there are so many good things to dwell on but what if I have nothing like that in my life right now? I would like to enjoy it all but I had a great deal of loss and pain over the past few years and this time of the year only seems to exaggerate everything that I don’t have even more.

  • trevor

    trevor

    December 22nd, 2014 at 6:18 AM

    I have never been excited about the holiday season, I grew up with my grandson after my parents passed very early and have spent the past few years with absolutely no one to call my own. I don’t sob about it or anything but if that is the way it is then why not embrace it? I go about my holiday season just like the rest of the year, with a few extra jobs thrown in or just enjoying that extra few days of leave. i don’t want anybody to feel sad for me because honestly I’m happy the way I am, and the holiday season is no different than the rest of the year.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    December 22nd, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    Focusing on gratitude can be helpful. And the phrase “this too shall pass” is one of my favorite ones. Loss is always hard but it doesn’t stay that way permanently.

  • Josie

    Josie

    December 23rd, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Learning to rely on others in our lives can be difficult but so rewarding if you could just let them in and see what other people can do for you.
    There is power in being among those who can uplift you- this is not an opportunity that you will want to let pass you by.

  • ronnie

    ronnie

    December 25th, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    I tell you what, not having a job this year has gotten me down but I refuse to let it take me down for good!!

  • Judith

    Judith

    December 26th, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    Even if you can’t shake it off, and for a lot of us it is never that easy, but even if you can’t I do hope that there is something or someone in your life who can help you through this darkness.

    Everyone deserves a laugh and a smile even if it is just for a short while.

  • cherie

    cherie

    December 28th, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Each year and every holiday I think that this is the one that will be easier for me to get through without quite as much sadness. Then the truth sets in that this is not it at all, there will always be that part of me that feels like it is missing something because my family is no longer here to celebrate with me. I am not sure that there will ever be anything that could fill that void that you have once someone so significant has been taken from you.

  • McKaylla

    McKaylla

    December 29th, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    How can you not be happy at Christmas time? This is the best time of the year. I am a little sad after it is all over, but then I will perk up again after New Years Day.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    January 1st, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    “Everyone deserves a laugh and a smile” I couldn’t agree more Judith! And often when we let others in like Josie said we can have those moments.

  • Orphan Izzy

    Orphan Izzy

    July 19th, 2015 at 11:52 PM

    Just thinking about the holidays makes me want to kill myself. In fact thinking about tomorrow makes me feel that way …I have already called every crisis line, a number of therapists, family, friends and been betrayed by everyone. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse my own psychiatrist broke confidence yesterday and betrayed me to my abusers twice and has yet to apologize or acknowledge it or even contact me. According to The Internet none of my medications will kill me which sucks because that was always my plan if it got to the point where I had to decide.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    July 20th, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    Thank you for your comment! We have replied to you personally by email. If you haven’t already, you might consider reporting this psychiatrist’s behavior to your state or national board.
    Best wishes,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

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