THE BLOG

How to Cope During the Holidays When You're Not in a Joyous Mood

As we move into the holiday season, movies and advertisements will tell you that this is a joyous time of the year for everyone. But the reality is it can be a stressful time of the year for many. And, for a select few, it can be a tough time of the year.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! As we move into the holiday season, movies and advertisements will tell you that this is a joyous time of the year for everyone. But the reality is it can be a stressful time of the year for many. And, for a select few, it can be a tough time of the year. The pressure to feel happy when you don't can be difficult for some who are reminded of what they don't have during the holidays.

I have faced my own struggle during the holidays. As a child, Christmas was one of my favorite holidays, but as I grew older it became less and less of a happy occasion. I still love spending time with my family and I enjoy getting and receiving gifts, but there's a darker aspect to the holiday that I can't easily shake. I'm often reminded of family members I lost when I spend the holidays with my family. Their absence is noticeable and the feeling is palpable. I also ended a long-term relationship a couple years ago so every year I am without an additional house to travel to and it still feels strange to travel alone. I'm reminded that I'm single as I arrive by myself.

But, there are many reasons why people may not feel the joyous spirit of holiday. For many, they don't have enough money to lavish their family with gifts the way they would like to which puts stress on them. Some companies lay off workers right before Christmas or during the holidays. There are people who can't afford to travel to spend time with their families and instead will spend the holiday alone. And, there are people who just feel depressed during this time. Whatever the reason, it's important to acknowledge that it's not a happy occasion for everyone and that has to be okay.

So, how do you cope with the holiday if you find yourself in one of these situations?

This Too Shall Pass. It's an often used phrase and it is hard to feel that what is going on is temporary when you are in the middle of it. Take a step back from your situation and try to remember all the times you were facing a situation that felt like the end of the world and how you progressed through it to regain your footing. You've already survived chaos and loss. And, one day, you will look back on this situation and remember how you got through it even if you are facing something new. Life is a series of highs and lows. If we accept the lows as we accept the highs, we realize that both come and go.

The Reason for the Season. We get caught up in the commercialism of the holiday. We focus on the money spent and the gifts we give to one another. But, not all gifts have to be monetary. And, you shouldn't feel like less than if you can't afford to buy gifts for those you love. Time is a gift. Presence is a gift. You may feel bad if all you can do is show up empty-handed, but the laughs you share with family members and friends outweighs a gift you can buy in the store. If you are alone on the holiday, find others who may be alone and offer to spend the holiday with them. Or, you can volunteer your time with people who truly have no one during the holidays. The season is about giving.

Don't Answer Questions that Make You Feel Bad about Your Situation. Well-meaning relatives may want to interrogate you about your current situation and offer unsolicited advice which only puts you in the wrong frame of mind during the holiday. But, you are not required to answer the questions. If your Aunt wants to know when you are going to get married or why you don't have children, you can respectfully decline to answer the question. My suggestion would be to say, "That's not something I want to discuss right now, but I appreciate your concern." And, she might balk, but remove yourself from the conversation as quickly and respectfully as you can. You are under no obligation to face a verbal firing squad during the holidays. Remind yourself that it's misguided concern and not an attack.

Give Yourself Permission Not to Celebrate. One year, my grandfather died right before Christmas. No one in my family was feeling joyous and the holiday just reminded all of us of his absence. We had a low-key Christmas. We didn't even get together on Christmas. Instead, we got together the following week and exchanged gifts. There was no formality to it. It didn't feel like a celebration. We just spent time together without the pressure of feeling anything more than what we felt. Sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to feel however you feel. If you don't want to celebrate and you prefer to treat it as any other day, then do whatever makes you feel better and don't worry about how others perceive it.

Raise your spirits. But, be sure not to dwell in your sadness. Feel whatever you feel and then try to raise your spirits. Be mindful of what you are thinking and control what you can control. If you don't have a lot of money, put a cap on how much everyone can spend on gifts. Or, come up with a creative way to celebrate that won't cost a lot of money.

At a former job, we would have a "white elephant" where people would re-gift. They would bring in a gift they received that they didn't want and other people would choose their gift based on their taste.

Use discount coupon sites like Groupon and Livingsocial when shopping or look on craigslist to barter for gifts.

Create coupons for things you will do for another person that they can cash in throughout 2016. For example: If your kids have been bugging you to do something that you don't enjoy, offer them a coupon to cash in for you to do it with them at any time in 2016. Allow them to come up with things they will commit themselves to throughout the year as well. They may appreciate the freedom of having their desires fulfilled when they choose.

Find ways to minimize your frustration and raise your spirits by taking small steps towards having a happier holiday. Use your creativity to come up with meaningful gifts.

Take Care of Yourself. If you really are depressed, you need to take care of yourself. If it's just a reaction to a recent loss or a sad situation then your depression may subside over time. But, if you have been experiencing it for a long period of time, you may need to seek the help of a medical professional. There is nothing wrong with needing help. It's important that we take care of ourselves so we can be there for those who need us. If the holiday season has you feeling blue, be aware if it's momentary, seasonal or if you've been dealing with it for a long time. You may be able to find relief if you just seek out assistance.

There are a few suggestions as to how to get through the holiday season if you are experiencing a difficult period. In a perfect world, we would all experience the joy of the holidays. We would all be able to lavish one another with gifts from the heart. We would all be in great circumstances. But, that's not everyone's reality. We have to be sensitive to one another and also to ourselves. You don't have to force yourself to be something you aren't and you don't have to feel bad for what you don't have. Find a way to customize the season to fit your circumstances and use creativity to fill in the gaps.