woman making a homemade gift

Managing Feelings of Depression During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is represented as a magical time filled with love and togetherness, but it can be a painful reminder of loss and loneliness for some people.

Whether you miss the presence of a loved one who has died, are away from your loved ones, or have set a boundary to separate yourself from family, this can be a challenging time of the year. Many people experience the holiday blues. You are not alone. 

You may feel like there is nothing that can shift these feelings of depression. However, there are things you can do to support yourself and as you move through this challenging time. 

WHEN WE SUPPRESS hard feelings, they remain within and typically grow stronger, making processing and moving through them difficult or even impossible.

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings

We have all heard advice like “Get over it,” “Be strong,” “Don’t cry,” “Move on,” “Look at the bright side,” the list goes on.

While these phrases are well-intentioned, the underlying meaning is that we are being told to avoid hard feelings to feel better. This is a type of emotional invalidation. This communicates to us that our emotions are not valid, unreasonable or even irrational and, therefore, should be hidden or concealed.

Remember: all feelings are valid. When we suppress hard feelings, they remain within and typically grow stronger, making processing and moving through them difficult or even impossible. When we validate the fact that the holiday season brings up feelings of pain and sadness, we can then nurture ourselves and ride the waves of emotions instead of fighting or avoiding them. While it may not be fun to feel these strong emotions, it is natural and healthy to experience them. Let yourself cry, and you will find a sense of relief afterward because crying releases hormones like oxytocin and endorphins, which boost our mood.

Acknowledge your pain and let yourself feel it because doing so can help you better regulate your emotions as they come up.

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Seek Support

Reaching out for support can be difficult because we feel we are opening up an emotional can of worms. However, when we avoid support, we, unfortunately, increase our sense of isolation and loneliness and are more likely to fall into a downward emotional spiral.

Speaking up takes tremendous courage because we may feel like our heavy feelings will be seen as burdensome. This cannot be further from the truth!

Express your feelings with trusted friends, loved ones or mental health professionals. When we put ourselves into the hands of the people who love us, we feel a sense of connection and understanding. Talking it out with supportive people allows us to receive goodness and love –

  • We receive help with things that may feel too difficult to do,
  • We receive quality time,
  • We receive validation and
  • We receive nurturing love.

While support does not take away the pain we feel, the support helps us move through the challenges that come with the pain. Consider those in your life who are behind you 100%, those who bring a smile to your face, those who know just what to say. Seek them out and allow them to shower you with love; they will be glad you reached out.

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Stay Active

Being active is one of the best ways to reduce feelings of depression. When we feel lethargic during the holiday season, we also experience low motivation. Shifting feelings of depression means we have to be intentionally active. While we may think that waiting until we feel motivated is a good idea, it’s not. This is an unreliable method because inactivity sustains feelings of depression.

An approach that helps shake up our energy and increase feelings of motivation is called Opposite Action. When we practice Opposite Action, we acknowledge that inaction maintains our low mood, and we choose to do things that are opposite to the feeling of low motivation. While it takes a lot to muster the energy to be active, the bright side is that we can start small. Doing something pleasurable for as little as five minutes has the power to increase our motivation because it enables our body to release mood-boosting hormones like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Once these hormones are released, we are likely to feel less depressed and more motivated.

Having a hard time coming up with things to do? Consider the following simple activities to jump start your happy hormones:

  • Go outside
  • Take a walk
  • Stretch
  • Breathe
  • Take a bath or shower
  • Call a friend who makes you laugh
  • Listen to upbeat music
  • Dance
  • Play with your pet
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Change It Up

The holiday season is filled with traditions – such as decorating, shopping, wrapping presents, going to parties, or baking cookies. They may bring joy to some, but they feel like obligations to others.

When we feel obligated to do things that do not bring us joy, forcing ourselves to do these things will likely feel overwhelming and difficult. Consider changing things up.

If a tradition no longer feels good, why carry it on? Why not create new, life-giving traditions? If you feel a void at the dinner table because a loved one has died, maybe you can move to a different room to eat. If you miss your cookie baking partner, maybe enlist other friends and loved ones or attend someone else’s baking event. If you carry pain from difficult family dynamics, maybe you set a boundary and choose to limit your time at family gatherings or even attend a different gathering with people who uplift you.

Breaking from painful tradition and creating new memories helps us move forward on our terms and allows us to focus on what is truly important to us.

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Practice Gratitude

When we feel low, being grateful may be difficult because our lens is focused on our pain. I urge you to switch your lens and seek reasons to be grateful. We have the power to shift our perspective towards the goodness in our lives.

As humans, we are complex, and we can feel a multitude of emotions at the same time; this can feel overwhelming and also amazing because we can choose to focus on certain thoughts and feelings.

When we practice gratitude, the benefits are abundant such as:

  • Better sleep,
  • Improved mood,
  • Newfound hope,
  • Increased empathy,
  • Heightened self-esteem,
  • Deepened connections with others.

The list goes on. Tap into your complexity and remind yourself that there is much to be grateful for, even if it’s the small things. You may feel frustrated by the weather and joyful about the beauty of a single snowflake. You may feel angry about a loss and also happy for what you had. You may feel lonely and also cared for by others.

Whether you choose to log your gratitude in a journal, start a gratitude ritual or share your gratitude with others, you will notice the benefits of these actions. We call it gratitude practice because it takes time and repetition to build this skill, so be patient with yourself if you find this to be difficult and remind yourself that practice makes progress. You will notice that as you continue your gratitude practice, your perspective will shift and your radar for the positive will gain strength.

Prioritize Self-Care

The holiday season can be tough, so remember to take care of yourself during this tender time. While doing so may not take away your feelings of hurt, self-care will help you navigate the challenges that come with the season. Letting yourself feel your feelings will help you move through them. Seeking support means you will receive support. Staying active can shift your energy and give you renewed vigor. Changing traditions that no longer serve you will make space for you to create new ones that do. Practicing gratitude will allow you to recognize that life is grand.

You have the power to help yourself and ease the pain of this difficult time, so be patient and prioritize self-care during this holiday season.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Ammirati Counseling to ask and inquire about support services that you can receive to help with overcoming feelings of depression, loneliness, stress or anxiety.

Ammirati Counseling is a boutique counseling group with an office in Bannockburnn serving Chicago. Therapists also offer private therapy via remote online. They provide comprehensive care to children, teens, adults, couples, families, and the LBGT community.
Joan McDonald