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  • Jan Flynn

Hit With Holiday Sads?

Three tips that can help

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

The holidays are rough on some of us; that’s not news. Their arrival during the shortest days of the year — assuming you live north of the equator — comes freighted with expectations and associations like no other turn of the calendar. If for whatever reason you’re not feeling the magic, the contrast between the twinkling lights and inescapable music of your outer environment and the tangled murk of your interior can really bring you down.

This year, that contrast is even more acute. The holiday energy is doubly frantic, as though we’re trying to compensate for last year’s dreary Christmas in lockdown. “This year, making dreams come true is even more important!” — that’s an actual commercial message I’ve heard more than once, and I don’t even watch ads on TV.

And yet, with Omicron hovering over the festivities like an invisible, irredeemable Grinch, we’re not entirely sure it’s safe to come out and party like it’s 2021 after all. By and large, though, people seem determined to do it up big time anyway. The Season of Light has always existed in defiance of the dark, so here we go.

Which can make things exquisitely uncomfortable if you’re not on board the holiday train.

If you’re truly struggling, if depression has really clamped its jaws on you, then it’s time to take action, even though that’s probably the last thing you feel like doing. By all means, get professional help, and if you find yourself even flirting with the notion of self-harm, contact the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 (or via chat).

But if you’re just feeling low and out of tune with the rest of the twinkly, caroling world, here are a few suggestions, based purely on personal experience, that may help get you through the holidaze.

First, practice radical self-compassion

It’s tempting, when feeling out of sync with the festive season, to assume the problem lies with you. Everybody else is shopping and baking and planning parties — and maybe you are too, because you’re the one who makes it all happen in your household, only right now it feels like you’re pushing a beach uphill. What’s the matter with you?

The answer is, nothing is the matter with you. You have entirely valid and strong reasons for feeling whatever you’re feeling, which you may or may not have the time or headspace to suss out right now. Just know that as long as you’re treating others decently, you’re not obligated to manufacture feelings you don’t have. Give yourself the same trust and compassion you would give your best friend.

Second, pretend you’re a tourist, or a space alien

As weird as this sounds, this is a mental trick I stumbled on one very challenging holiday season, and it worked like gangbusters.

The year my mother suffered a devastating stroke the week after Thanksgiving, I drove past ebullient displays of holiday lights in my trips to and from the hospital. I found myself regarding them from a curious remove, as though I’d landed in Tibet during the lunar new year.

It had a remarkable effect. Instead of piling on an already calamitous situation with the additional sadness of it happening so close to Christmas, I simply released the emotional attachment to making merry when merry was clearly not happening.

Recognizing that the festivity out there didn’t have to have anything to do with me allowed me to simply let it be. I didn’t resent the bustle and decorations or feel out of joint with them; I observed them with interest, like a tourist.

In the years since, when I’ve felt myself veering toward a bit of holiday melancholy, I’ve drawn on this technique and found it just as refreshing. Give it a whirl; it’s free, and nobody needs to know what you’re doing.

Third, do something nice for somebody else

If you’re in the doldrums while reading this, I can hear your eyes rolling from here. But I’m not telling you to go solve world hunger or abolish poverty. Just pick something, almost anything, that you can do for somebody else, preferably someone you don’t know (buying gifts for the people on your list is lovely, but you were going to do that anyway).

Contribute to a toy drive or a food drive, or even, if you can summon the energy, volunteer somewhere, if only for an hour or two. As puny as this may sound to you in your current mood, it can change the channel on your interior screen like nothing else. You may not emerge like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. But it’s a safe bet you’ll feel better.

Whatever your holiday mood, I wish you well

I mean that wholeheartedly. May you pass the season in health and comfort, and may the new year bring you — and all of us — a few unlooked-for miracles. We could all use them.

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