How to Handle the Holidays When You Don’t Feel Merry or Bright

We’re now into December which means the music in the malls is on perpetually looped holiday jazz standards and everything’s being draped in the ole red, white, and green (and if we’re really lucky, silver and gold, too). For some of us, there’s no better time of year!

For many others, the holiday season marks a particularly slippery emotional slope marked by dread, anxiety, and depression. Not to be a downer, but sometimes even for those who normally look forward to the holidays, the sheer intensity of it all can result in exhaustion, resentment, and obligation.

That the holiday season can be difficult isn’t new news. The increasing duration, hype, and intensity of the holiday season may have something to do with general feelings of anxiety and sadness. After all, sustaining Hallmark movie levels of anticipation, pep, and bounteousness for 6-8 straight weeks is a real ask. Now we’re all for the season of gathering, of giving, and of goodness but we’re also all for maintaining healthy boundaries. And that gets super difficult when challenged with multiple demands and requests for your attention and resources during the season.

It’s important to know that it’s perfectly normal to experience these feelings during the holiday season. It might be even more important to know that there are lots of ways to take care of yourself when you’re not feeling merry or bright.

Thing number one? Feel welcome – nay, empowered – to go right ahead and lower your expectations. You can’t be everywhere, do everything, or make it picture perfect every time... And you know what? That’s cool. To be honest, sometimes imperfections are even more fun – and far more memorable. So let yourself enjoy a couple of #Pinterestfail moments, and definitely allow yourself to say “No, thank you” to requests that stress you out – even if they’re things you’ve done in the past. Every year is new, and you’re entitled to change your mind.

Next up, we know it’s tougher to be active when it’s cold and dark outside but this is the one time of year when we have to implore – implore! – you to maintain your self-care schedule. Daily exercise and nightly uninterrupted sleep will be extra important to keeping your emotions and mind calm and focused during the holidays. As work deadlines intensify, people go on vacation, kids, teachers, and partners (or exes) make last minute requests, or memories of departed loved ones appear unexpectedly, it’s your self-care routine that will help you navigate demands and surprises with the composed grace you’d call up any effortlessly any other time of year.  

Third – feeling “the right” feelings. One of the most ubiquitous themes of the holidays is gratitude. From Thanksgiving through the New Year we’re inundated with messages and expressions of gratitude. That’s lovely unless, of course, you’re so overexposed to #grateful, #gratitude, #attitudeofgratitude that you’re suddenly feeling inspired to pack up your dog, move up to an isolated hilltop cabin, and think up ways to get back at those snivelling, caroling nincompoo….oops.

Look, it happens to everyone. We’ve found that channeling your feelings, getting super specific about them on a daily basis can put things back into perspective. Sometimes our 5 Minute Journal is filled with daily gratitude (it has just enough space for three very specific things for each entry) and sometimes it’s more a record of our moods. Either way, we’re able to reflect on how and what we were thinking about or feeling in the moment. And that is a gift of perspective and validation in and of itself.

What about fixating on funds? The holidays are a financially taxing time of year for everyone – mainly because we’ve bought into the idea that the holiday spirit equals buying things. Try buying less ‘stuff.’ While Receiving Gifts is a common and valid Love Language, remember there are Five Love Languages – and gifting in different ways doesn’t only save your financial sanity, it also better demonstrates how much you know and care!

Think of your loved ones who are moved by Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, or Physical Touch and tap into those cues as your way of providing meaningful moments instead of things.

How about when you’re feeling lonely, unproductive, or otherwise kind of useless? The best way we’ve found to get our mojos back is to help someone else. Very few things remind you that you’re needed, wanted, and belong to a community better than actually being a part of one. Volunteering is a wonderful way to make a real contribution to those around you! If the idea conjures up visions of soup kitchens, yes, by all means, that’s a great way to lend a hand. But there are other ways to lend a hand too. Try…

  • Being present for neighbours that could use some extra help on a day to day basis
  • Giving your time to a local animal shelter – bunny cuddling is wonderful and a real volunteer job! Or,
  • Help friends set-up for their own holidays, especially if their celebrations are of different traditions than your own

This one bears repeating. So, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you’re totally entitled to say “No” to events, obligations, or situations that stress you out. Sometimes there are just too. many. things. You can’t do them all, and believe us when we tell you: everyone else is saying no to something too. So don’t feel bad. Relish in the fact that you’re so darned popular that everyone wants a piece of your action! And then selectively choose which things you’ll participate in. Oooor, and this is radical…. Ditch the holidays. What would happen if – just this year – you took yourself on a little getaway instead? Could you discover that Santa looks awesome in board shorts, or that Hanukkah Harry’s rounds at the cruise ship buffet are more up your alley…. Or that neither of them – and not even the Holiday Armadillo – get in your face when you’re on an adventure of your very own? Faaabulous!

There’s one more thing. Here at Handled we’re all about helping to make life easier, smoother, and less stressful. But we also know that sometimes even that kind of help isn’t quite enough. Getting emotional support is one of the kindest gifts we can give to ourselves any time of year, but especially during the holiday season.  

When the holiday season feels heavy, it’s time to invoke the mantra of “self-care above all else.” We would love to help you find the merry and bright this season, whether through our services or through finding other support. It’s the best gift we know to give.

If you struggle with the holidays, please know there are discreet professionals available who want to help, and their toll-free phone numbers are below.

Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), by Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566

KidsHelpPhone Ages 20 Years and Under 1-800-668-6868 (Online or on the Phone)

First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness 1-855-242-3310

Canadian Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419

Trans LifeLine – All Ages 1-877-330-6366


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