Happiness and holidays are thought to go hand in hand but, for many people, the celebratory season can be a difficult time. Sadness, anxiety, loneliness and frustration are common end-of-year emotions, but ones that we often try to repress during the holiday season for the sake of those around us. So, what should we do to feel happy during the holiday season?
The problem is, that forcing those dour feelings down and painting on a happy face can actually make you feel worse. Though a fake smile can occasionally produce a real one, phoning in your positivity won’t actually cheer you up – and could even leave you feeling more isolated and upset than before.
During these unprecedented times, mental health care is more important and relevant than ever. But why do the holidays in particular trigger the blues for so many people, and how can you turn things around?
Why do we feel sad during the holidays?
Feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness and loneliness can affect us at any time of the year, but bouts of depression are particularly common around the holiday season. There are several possible causes for these widespread winter blues, including social isolation, disagreements with family members, financial woes, grieving for absent loved ones and even seasonal depression.
This year’s holiday season is sure to be even more trying than usual, with millions of people across the globe facing up to the reality of restricted celebrations. For many, this will mean heightened feelings of isolation, frustration and sadness.
It can be comforting to know that you are not alone. Feelings of sadness around the holidays are common among adults and children alike, and often last until the season ends. Fortunately, there are a few things you can try to give your mood a boost over the holidays, which can go a long way towards improving your general wellbeing.
How to improve your mood over the holiday season
Take happiness into your own hands
For some people, the very arrival of the holiday season is enough to catapult them into high spirits. If, however, you’re one of the many others who’d rather skip the whole thing, your best way of getting through it is to create your own moments of happiness.
It can be easy to get swept along in the good-cheer-tide of dinners and parties, but taking a grin-and-bear-it attitude to every event won’t lift your mood. Don’t feel like pushing through the crowds of another Christmas market? Skip it. You deserve to enjoy the holidays as much as anyone, so use the time off to focus on yourself.
It can be helpful to identify exactly which aspect of the holiday season gets you down, and go from there. Once you’ve pinpointed what triggers your negative emotions, you can seek out activities that alleviate those feelings.
For example, if you’re grieving for a loved one, finding a way to feel connected to them may help. This could mean reaching out to a friend or family member with whom you can swap happy memories, honouring a tradition you once shared, or simply lifting a glass in their name.
If the holiday season leaves you feeling lonely, look for local events that you can participate in or reach out to a loved one. Or, if the relentless socializing is hard on your mental health, carve out time for an evening alone.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of dwelling on what you think is missing from your life, be it professional success, material achievement or strong social connections.
However, no-one lives a perfect existence, and even the affluent beauties of Instagram will occasionally cry into their perfectly constructed salads.
When you find yourself spiralling into a black hole of self-pity, feeling better can be as simple as redirecting your thoughts and shifting your focus. Instead of concentrating on the absences in your life, make a list of all the things you feel thankful for. Then, find ways to integrate them into your holiday season as much as possible!
Reach out when you need to
If (like many of us) you’re facing a quieter holiday season than usual, the winter months could feel like a lonely time. Several studies have found a direct link between loneliness and feelings of depression, so it’s no wonder that feeling isolated over the holidays can negatively impact your mood.
And you wouldn’t be alone. Even on a regular, pandemic-free year, many people (and especially older people) feel lonely during the holiday season.
Which means that the holidays are the perfect time to reach out. Even if you’re isolating, a phone call to a loved one can do a lot to lift your mood – and will probably brighten their day, too.
Avoid stressful people and situations as much as possible
Certain holiday season situations (like family meals, excessive shopping and work events) can send stress levels soaring. Scientists have established a strong connection between stress and depression, which could explain why the holiday season messes with so many people’s moods.
If you know the root causes of your poor holiday spirits, congratulations! Now is the time to put that understanding into action, for the sake of your own happiness. If you know that a particular person or situation is going to make your cortisol levels leap, do what you can to avoid them. If you absolutely must attend that dinner with your insufferable boss, take time to unwind after. Meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and relaxing hobbies are all valuable ways to spend some you-time, and will help to keep your stress in check over the holiday season.
The holiday season can be a difficult time of year for a lot of people. For those who are grieving, separated from loved ones or already dealing with mental health problems, the winter months can be a challenging time of year.
Feelings of loneliness, sadness and anxiety are all common during the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you have to fake-smile your way through the festivities. Taking time to prioritise your own needs can not only help to elevate your mood, but can also help you get to the bottom of what triggers your negative emotions.