Here are Proven Ways to Cope With Christmas When You're Feeling Blue

Christmas is a season for joy and connection.  But what happens when the lights and bustle make you feel sad and lonely – excluded from the joy and connections that others are making?

Maybe you're at home wondering, "Where are my party invitations?  Why does everyone else have someone to decorate the tree or make cookies with?  Why don't I have a hand to hold?"

Christmas wishes

We're all in this together.

That ache – that wish for connection – is what makes you exactly like everyone else.  All of us want to connect, even the introverts among us, even the curmudgeons.  (Just imagine how lonely Scrooge was, sipping gruel in his cold dark house on Christmas Eve.)  And all of us want to be happy, sometimes to the point that we refuse to feel sad, even when it makes sense.

If you've recently lost your job, are going through a breakup, have been ill, or are simply feeling overwhelmed by the problems and complexities of the modern world, sorrow is actually a sane response.  It's normal and okay to feel sad.  But we may be so conditioned to feel positive that we don't let ourselves experience negative emotions.  We don't give ourselves permission to even have them, which means we don't do well at processing them.

When my son came out as transgender almost 9 years ago, my husband and I were blindsided.  My first emotion was that the daughter I had raised had died.  It felt like her name and identity were being erased.  And then I felt guilty for my emotions, because I hadn't actually lost a child.  I didn't know at first how to tell family and friends what was happening, so I didn't.  I didn't talk about it, and I tried very hard not to feel sad.

As I found out, that doesn't work very well.  Sadness affects us mentally and physically, and if we don't process the emotion, we lose part of ourselves.  When we're set on being happy all the time, we miss out on part of what it means to be a human being.  We stop feeling and start lying.

Sadness teaches us patience and empathy.  Expressing sadness (especially crying) can actually be soothing.  Receiving sympathy and encouragement from close friends and family makes us feel connected to them – and connection helps us heal.

If you're sad, don't fold yourself up into a little ball of sadness.  Find someone who will listen without interrupting or trying to "fix" your feelings.  And reach out to do something for someone else.  MRI scans show that our brains light up with feel-good chemicals when we're generous and kind.  Like Scrooge buying the big prize turkey and having it delivered to Bob Cratchit, you can give to your favorite charity or pay for the coffee of the person in line behind you.

How to survive a blue Christmas

Realize that lots of people are lonely.  It's an experience you share with many, many others.  How ironic to feel cut off from all of them – the community of the lonely.

Author Mari Andrew suggests that you light a candle and send happy holiday wishes to all of your fellow lonely people.  Lonely, together, all wishing each other well.  That sounds nice.

But there are more practical ways to connect.  Here are some easy ideas:

  • Smile.
  • Merrily greet your neighbor, even if you don't know their name.  (You could introduce yourself.)
  • Put away your phone and strike up a small conversation with the person in line next to you, even if they're a complete stranger.  You can find something to talk about. 
  • Write a sincere and specific thank you letter to someone who has meant a lot to you.
  • Show up with your contribution at the coat, toy, or canned food drive, and meet someone else who has cared enough to bring a contribution of their own.
  • Attend a community tree lighting or a religious service and join in the carol singing.

A good life isn't about being happy all the time.  It's about pursuing a purpose.  It's about being thankful for what you have.  And it's about letting yourself feel the full range of human emotions, including melancholy when things don't go the way you hoped.  Feel what you feel, reach out to others, and know that you'll come out the other side with a bit more hope and resilience.


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