Unhappy Holidays: Dealing With Seasonal Sadness

Unhappy Holidays

Despite the twinkling lights, the cheery Santas at the malls, and children gleefully counting down the days until Christmas, not everyone is feeling jolly this time of year.

Some of us are feeling kind of sad…and not just the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge.

I was reading an article the other day about how many people mistakenly believe that December has higher rates of suicide than any other month.

It’s not true, but the rumor still persists. If you’re wondering, suicides are highest in the spring. (As a teenager I attempted suicide in the spring, so it makes sense to me.)

But just because people aren’t offing themselves doesn’t mean that everything’s OK. The holiday season can be a real downer for a lot of reasons.

Why Are We Unhappy?

  • It’s the end of the year, and we may be sad about how the year played out: what we did, what we didn’t do. Maybe we didn’t keep our resolutions, or maybe we didn’t make our dreams a priority.
  • Not all of us are celebrating. Growing up in an atheist family, the holidays were a weird time for me, and I often felt left out. I now celebrate Christmas because I have a tendency to steal other people’s holidays, but it’s easy to forget that December 25 is just another day for a lot of folks.
  • We may be sick or suffering. It’s difficult to feel the joy of the season if you’re physically hurting or mourning. Who wants to have fun when the world can be so cruel?
  • The extra responsibilities, parties, get-togethers, and family obligations can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure to spend money, be on your best behavior, and put others first. When do you have time to take care of yourself?
  • Maybe you are feeling happy, but there might be others around you who aren’t. It’s hard to keep your spirits high when others are dumping on you.

So, what are we supposed to do when everyone is singing, “…you better not pout…”?

Slap on a fake smile, spike our hot chocolate, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life?

Nah. Here’s a better idea: give yourself permission to be sad.

Embrace the Sadness

Sure, our natural tendency might be to shove down our sadness and pretend that everything’s just perfect. But why?

We’re human, and humans get sad. It sounds backwards, but if you really want to feel better, you should give yourself time to feel sad.

Set aside 10 minutes a day to just be with your unhappiness. Worry about your job, mope about your family problems, fret about the state of the world.

Or just be sad for no particular reason at all.

You can cry, hug your pillow, scream at the Christmas tree—whatever you need to do. After the 10 minutes are up, go about the rest of your day.

Strangely, your mood will be lifted by allowing yourself to feel the pain and sadness.

Two Caveats

  • Limit your sad time to just 10 minutes a day on the days when you need it. That’s plenty of time to honor yourself and get the unpleasantness out of your system. You don’t want to be grumpy all day.
  • Spend your sad time by yourself. Not everyone is feeling sad—in fact, many people are very happy this time of year! Don’t use your sad time to bring down other people’s moods.

Do you give yourself permission to be sad?

Have you ever had a “bah humbug” moment?

The Editor’s Toolkit

  • Free Workshop: 3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar
  • 25+ Printable Worksheets
  • 6 Life Editing Ebooks
  • My Favorite Books and Resources


  1. xvavaveganx on December 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    This is a really great, important topic to discuss. I’m usually ok through the holidays because I try to lose myself in the festiveness and the spirit of the season. I’m not a huge fan of new year’s but that doesn’t really affect me too much. I think a big problem for myself and probably others is just the complete lack of sunlight. I can only speak for myself but I think psychologically I think that I’m wasting my life away at work because It is pitch black when I get out. I do allow myself to feel sadness but I’m also very careful not to get too caught up in it that I can’t find my way out. I think it’s important to allow yourself to feel what you are feeling then to move on.

    • Sage Grayson on December 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      I remember how depressing it was when I’d leave for work and it’d be dark out…and by the time I headed home it’d be dark again! I’ve been thinking about getting one of those lamps that mimic sunlight. I agree that you shouldn’t dwell in the sadness for too long. Feel it, own it, and then move on.

  2. Emily_Joyce on December 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    I’m glad you posted about this! I find that when I start feeling really sad around the holidays, it’s often because I set unrealistic expectations for a perfect Christmas. When I don’t get all the crafts, decorations, and recipes I pinned made, and I’m late mailing cards, and I’m also late getting presents bought, I get discouraged. This may or may not have happened last weekend 🙂 But today is a new week, and I’ve decided to enjoy the imperfections, the bad wrapping paper jobs, the mismatched decor, and the fact that two day shipping exists 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on December 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Absolutely! There’s so much pressure to make the holidays perfect. Here’s my confession: I still have more Christmas cards to send!

  3. Molly on December 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    This is such an important topic. I’m usually okay throughout the year, but once the sun is barely around I get down a bit. I accept it and try to focus on the positive things now, but in the past I could really let it get to me.

    This year I’m not as down as I usually get, which surprises me. 2012 was a very rough year in several ways for me, so I’m looking forward to a new year. Maybe that’s helping me get through better than usual?

    • Sage Grayson on December 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      I look forward to the new year too. I’m always looking for a fresh start…a way to refocus. I miss the sun too! I get kind of bummed when it’s dark by 5:30. 🙁