10 Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues

updated Mar 11, 2020
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(Image credit: Lindsay Tella)

We get it. As the holiday season rolls on, it can feel like we’re all supposed to be diving into a constant stream of parties, big happy family dinners, and loads of presents. Well, it’s been my experience that some years the holidays are busy and exciting, but some years they’re not. Some years they’re bittersweet and some years they’re incredibly difficult. Whether it’s financial strain, family issues, illness, loss, or something else altogether, this season can be tough!

If the upcoming holiday season is looking to be tricky to navigate, here are a few alternatives to feeling blue. They’re definitely more fun than sighing into your tea every time a Christmas commercial comes on TV. Yeah, I’ve been there too. And feel free to share your tips in the comments.

1. Get together.

Some years it’s just not possible to be with family on a big holiday, and while that can be hard, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone. I learned this one Thanksgiving when I was working 1,000 miles away from my family. I didn’t have enough time off to go home for the holiday, and as it turned out, neither did many of my co-workers. Rather than spending the day squirreled up in our apartments, we had an impromptu group dinner, which turned into a great night of drinking too much wine and playing board games. So, if you think you’re alone because you can’t go home, think again. See what co-workers, neighbors, or friends are up to, and you may be surprised. There could be a communal holiday dinner waiting to happen.

2. Make something.

According to every big box store, as of 12:01 a.m. November 1, we were supposed to start shopping for the holidays. And 10 gazillion commercials say that holiday happiness = buybuybuy. We all know that’s not true, but it can still be hard to show up to holiday gatherings empty handed. Some years extra money for gifts is just not there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something special for those you care about. I have a relative who makes stunningly good chocolates, packages them up, and hands them out as gifts every year. It’s like getting a big box of gourmet candy, but instead of spending a lot of money, she uses her time and skill. Don’t be shy about tapping into your skills to make gifts. Maybe you’re a baker: offer to bake the pies for a gathering. Maybe you’re a gifted artist: paint a portrait of your niece or nephew or print out a particularly great photograph for a friend. Knit something, sew something, frame something, bake something, whatever you’re good at, make it and share it.

3. Spruce up your pad.

If you’re not decorating for the holidays, use your creative energy and extra time off to fix up your place. That’s what I did one Christmas Eve. I was living alone, going through some heartbreak (always fun around the holidays), working most of the holidays, my mom was recovering from cancer surgery and there was nothing particularly eventful to mark the days off. Tired of moping around, I decided to repaint my bedroom. I picked up a gallon of paint at a local hardware store and painted late into the night while listening to Christmas music and drinking wine. It turned out to be a deep evening of introspection and I woke up on Christmas morning in a freshly painted room. In a funny way, it felt like a small victory for me.

4. Get excited about the year ahead: Make plans!

Even if nothing is wrong, some years the holidays are just kind of lackluster and there isn’t much going on. Instead of feeling sad because it feels like everyone else is talking about how busy their social calendar is, get excited about things to do and places to go in the coming year. Having a trip, project or goal on the horizon can make those dull New Year’s Eves less of a bummer.

5. Giving is better than receiving.

Not getting invited to a holiday party is a drag, it definitely stings, but if that’s a major concern, it means the basic needs are probably covered. For so many, the holidays are incredibly difficult because their basic needs are not met, and this is where we can help. Countless organizations are looking for volunteers to help with clothes, food, toy drives or meal-related events around the holidays. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity for the holidays, United We Serve is a great place to start. Type in your zip code for a listing of local opportunities.

6. Be a pal.

It’s easy to fall into a bad mood if times are tough, but chances are there’s probably someone you know who is having an even harder time. Take a look around and see who could use a hand or a high five. Maybe a friend just lost a job or is going through a break-up: take them out to dinner or for a drink. Volunteer to babysit for someone you know needs a night out. Put some extra cash in the barista’s tip jar. Wink at the bus driver. Compliment your co-worker’s bedazzled holiday sweater they worked so hard on. Smile at a crabby store clerk, well, that’s just super annoying, but you get the gist. Little gestures can make a big impact on another person’s day, and you can boost your own spirit just by being thoughtful. It’s a phenomenon called helper’s high, and it refers to your body’s natural release of happy endorphins when you do good deeds.

7. Take a hike.

I mean that in the nicest way possible, as in, truly, take a hike! Really, is there anything better than a long walk in the fading afternoon light to clear your head? For me, that means rambling through the city with my earphones in and no destination in mind, but for you that could mean hiking a favorite trail while listening to the rhythm and silence of nature, or a solitary walk along the beach.

8. Travel.

I recently read an article in The New York Times that promoted the idea of solo leisure travel during the holidays. I love this idea! If you have some extra money but no real plans, why not use the time off to go somewhere new? Adventure is always a good idea, and isn’t there something completely charming about hotels during the holidays? I think it’s how much they tend to overdo it — it’s like x-treme coziness.

9. Re-connect with a handwritten letter, phone call or dinner date.

It is holiday card season after all, so why not use this time to truly reconnect with someone you’re missing? We may be “friends” with everyone we’ve ever known online, but browsing through clever status updates and carefully curated pictures (see: everyone always looks good + cool + happy) doesn’t compare with hearing someone’s voice or catching up as you awkwardly eat complicated maki rolls together at a nice sushi spot.

10. Disconnect from the noise for a minute.

Social media is a major presence in many of our lives and it’s primarily an incredible tool for communicating and connecting; but if the holidays are a time of personal crisis, the noise of social media can create additional stress. Sometimes the last thing we need to be thinking about is what fancy restaurants our friends are photographing their food at or how #blessed someone is because they’re having the #perfectChristmas. Sometimes it’s helpful to not know what everyone else is up to.

Originally published 11.21.12 – cm