How To Handle Sadness During The Holidays With 7 Easy Tips

Everyone has high expectations for the holidays. We want everything to be fun and joyful, just like the lyrics in the festive and ever-blaring songs. But the reality is that the holidays can be a sad time of year. And yes, this is true for a lot of people, even though it often looks like the rest of the world is having a jolly old time.

If you're feeling down, the thing to remember is that all those rosy-cheeked shoppers and joyful-looking families are probably at least a little bit sad, too. After all, no one is immune to the stress of insane lines at the mall, uncomfortable holiday parties, and strained dinners with relatives. It's exactly why people throw around the phrase "surviving the holidays."

But seasonal sadness isn't always a result of these stressors. Sometimes the holidays dredge up family problems that are difficult to handle, or they serve as a reminder of lost loved ones. The pressure to be happy this time of year can compound your sadness and make it that much more difficult. If that's the case, it's important to be honest with yourself and accept that you're going to feel down, and that's OK.

The holidays can be difficult; there's no doubt about it. Whether it's just the stress of shopping that's getting to you, or the fact you are missing a loved one, there are things you can do to "survive" the holidays. Here are a few suggestions for making this hectic, stressful, and often lonely time of year just a little bit easier.

1. Lower Your Expectations

Every year I march into December thinking this is the year I'll do the holidays right. I won't burn the cookies, buy any crappy gifts, or forget to send cards to my long lost relatives. I convince myself the entire season will go off without a hitch, and then I'm inevitably heartbroken when nothing goes according to plan. It's common to set yourself up for disappointment by expecting everything to be perfect, and that's precisely why this time of year can be so stressful. Instead of expecting a picture-perfect holiday, we should all cut ourselves some slack. According to R. Morgan Griffin for WebMD, "Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. If you’re comparing your holidays to some abstract greeting card ideal, they’ll always come up short. So don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come."

2. Plan Ahead For Family Clashes

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Holiday parties combine a lot of people who wouldn't normally hang out together, both for better and for worse. While it's nice to see your great aunt (at least for a few minutes), spending an entire dinner with her and her possibly skewed world views can really bring you down. That's why you should make a plan ahead of time for how you're going to deal with her. According to Therese J. Borchard for PsychCentral, "You might invent five or so canned retorts to be used when unjustly interrogated, or compile a list of necessary exit plans should you reach the about-to-lose-it-in-a-big-way point." And remember, no matter how awful the holiday party becomes, keep in mind that this is not your life and it will be over soon.

3. Remember That It's OK To Miss Lost Loved Ones

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This has got to be the hardest part of the holidays. You're supposed to be happy and joyous, and yet it feels impossible because a loved one is missing. But there are things you can do to make this difficult situation a little easier, such as acknowledging that you're sad, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just because it's the holiday season doesn't mean you have to be happy, so take some time to cry and look through old photographs. It won't make it any easier, but you may feel better for taking the time to reminisce about those you've lost.

4. Exercise & Eat Well

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Like many people, whenever I'm feeling down I tend to eat whatever I want and forgo exercise in favor of my comfy, comfy couch. But when you're sad, this isn't always the best option. If the stress of the holidays is sending you spiraling down into depression land, counteract it by taking really good care of yourself. Of course, you should enjoy the delicious free-for-all of food at holiday parties, but remember to exercise and eat healthy meals, for the sake of your mental health.

5. Change Up Your Traditions

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For years, my family put lights up on our house for the holidays. My brother would be on a ladder, with my dad halfway up the same ladder, while my Mom and I stood on the ground hoping everyone lived through the ordeal. Then one year we realized we don't have to put lights on our house. It was no fun, and they rarely hung straight anyway, so we ditched the tradition in favor of staying safely on the ground. And you know what? Our lightless holiday was just as great. Sometimes you just need to let go of traditions, especially if they're no longer making you happy.

6. Plan Ahead With Your Therapist

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Now's the time to schedule an appointment with a therapist, because there's no point in struggling through the holidays if you can talk it out with a professional. A therapist can help you manage your stress, make plans for dealing with your family, or simply give you a healthy dose of reality when the world seems to have turned into a nightmare of long lines, busy mall parking lots, and cranky relatives. Learning a few coping mechanisms can help you get through the season, and maybe even turn the holidays back into something enjoyable.

Of course the holidays can be a beautiful time of giving, good food, and fun times with family. But if the season really brings you down, be sure to plan ahead and do whatever you can to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally.

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