What to do if you Have a Heavy Heart During the Holidays (with 10 Actionable Tips to help Cope)
The holiday season: A time for fun, family, laughter, warmth, and friends.
The holiday season: A time for loneliness, sadness, guilt, heartache, and depression.
We often get so focused on the excitement of the holiday season, that we can forget that it’s not all fun and games for everyone. That not everyone looks forward to the holidays, and that the holidays can bring up a lot of negative emotions for some, and leave others with a heavy heart.
In fact, one source says: “…the holidays can be a difficult time of the year for people who have lost friends and family members. The memory of their loss can add to other sources of stress and hurt even more.”
For others, they may not have many friends or family in town. Maybe all or most have passed away. Perhaps this is the first Christmas for a couple with kids who just got divorced. For all one knows, maybe a family is struggling financially and knows they aren’t going to be able to afford gifts for their kids. Or maybe some people don’t keep in touch with any family members for whatever reason and choose to spend the holidays alone.
There are so many reasons some people may not enjoy the holidays, and you know what? That is OK.
You know what isn’t OK?
Not showing empathy. Not showing compassion. Making someone feel guilty.
Because someone who is already struggling this holiday season doesn’t need to feel like they should be enjoying this time if they aren’t. They’ve got enough on their plate.
I touched a little bit on this topic of not enjoying the holidays in my post about simplifying the season, but geared it more towards someone who encounters another who isn’t celebrating this year.
Scroll to the bottom of this post to read tips to help someone you know who is feeling down this holiday season.
For this post, I wanted to focus on you.
Yes, you. Who is not looking forward to the holidays. Who is dreading it. Who is feeling any type of negative emotion and a heavy heart around it.
If that someone is you, I see you.
Here are 10 things you can do if your heart is heavy and if you’re feeling down for the holidays:
Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to things. I know, it can be hard. But now is the time for self-care. Adding too much on your plate right now could contribute to additional stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, and while it may be tempting to try and ‘not think about things’ by doing a lot, eventually, you’ll burn out. I know, because I’ve been there. I used to thrive on being busy, but I also was forehead deep in anxiety. And adding more and more on my to-do list only led to even more anxiety and stress.
So back to saying no.
Reducing to-do list items and commitments can give you time to do what you need to do in order to be sad (or insert emotion here). It can provide time to do stuff that makes you feel just a little bit better.
And you know what? The old saying is true: ‘Those who matter, won’t mind. And those who mind, don’t matter’.
So, you do you.
My main tip for saying ‘no’?
Scheduling time for yourself, family, or friends on your calendar.
Yep – stick a ‘meeting’ on your calendar titled ‘self-care’, and stick with it like any other commitment. If something comes up that conflicts? It’s much easier to say ‘no’. Nobody has to know why you aren’t able to do x, y, z. Instead, offer alternatives to schedule, or don’t! It’s up to you.
Want more tips helpful tips for saying ‘no’? I’ve got an entire post which has four tips to help you say no (guilt-free).
Make time for yourself
While we’re on the topic of saying no, I really want to make sure you fill that time doing something for you. So make time for yourself. In theory, it’s really that simple. In reality, it’s not that easy. But it’s so important.
Making time for you allows you to ‘refill your cup’, which in turn allows you to give more to other areas of your life (kids, partner, or work, etc). I have found that if I’m struggling, it can be so easy to give all the energy I have (which is sometimes very little to begin with) to the kids, partner, or work, and not give to myself. Which in turn deplete my cup even more. It becomes this vicious cycle until I completely burn out, making me feel even worse.
So, make time for yourself.
If you’re thinking to yourself right now something along the lines of:
“I don’t have TIME for self-care”…
I get it. But I can’t stress how important this is!
Enlist in help from others. Delegate. Say ‘no’ to things (see above). MAKE room for this.
My main tip for making time for self-care (especially if you’re not used to doing so), is to start small. Start with 10-20 minutes ago, and grow from there. Picking a time-frame that is really small makes it harder to say no, because, hey, it’s only 10 minutes! As you get used to carving out time, keep extending that self-care time frame. It’ll get easier and easier, I promise!
Need more help in this area? I’ve got the hidden secret for scheduling ‘me time’, and 5 ways to stick with it.
Moving right along to self-care. We talked about making time for it, we talked about the importance of it and how to do it, and now, we’re talking about specifics.
You have time for yourself. What on earth do you do?
While this may seem like a silly question, I was once asking myself that. I hadn’t given myself ‘me time’ in so long, that when I finally had it, I had no idea what to do. And that made it really easy for those to-do list items to creep back into that time.
Personally, I love reading, going for a walk, coloring, taking nature photos, binging on Netflix shows, and yoga.
When it comes to yoga, I’m not talking about the hardcore yoga flow or HIIT yoga that’s out there (nothing wrong with it, just not my jam). When I’m looking for self-care, I’m looking for something calm and relaxing. Something that feels good. Something that could also incorporate hygge (I love me some hygge). Something like yin yoga.
Yes, I’m taking a yoga tangent. But I promise there is a reason. Keep reading.
Have you ever heard of yin yoga? I have to tell you about it because it is only something I started hearing about recently (thanks to my awesome friend who was trained specifically in yin yoga!), but I LOVE it.
Yin yoga does not deal with muscles; at least, not directly like vinyasa (for example), yoga does. It’s true! Yin focuses on stretching out the deep connective tissues and ligaments between muscles and the body’s fascia (a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ). The benefits include:
- Regulation of energy
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Increased flexibility
- Increased circulation in the joints and ligaments
- Did I mention relaxing?
During a yin yoga class, you only hold about 5-6 poses on average. Each pose is seated and props are encouraged for support, as you’re relaxing into each one for several minutes at a time. Yin is perfect for any level of yoga – from brand new beginners to master yogis.
After doing yin yoga a few times, I only want to do yin yoga. I know I’m guaranteed to be at least an hour or two of pure relaxation and bliss. It is the perfect opportunity to have quiet time (read: no 3-year-old climbing on me), time to feel completely present, time that I feel like I am doing something for myself that makes me feel good, and allows me to confront anything that may come up – including anything I’m working through during the holidays. And while that may seem scary, I know I am OK surrendering into the poses, breathing, and remaining calm.
Yin yoga has really helped me get through things during really intense times of anxiety and/or stress. It’s a great excuse to get my body moving when I am not feeling up to a full-on workout. It’s an amazing way to spend time on myself.
While I enjoy attending yin yoga at an in-person class, sometimes time, budget, weather (hello, Minnesota winters), or the fact that I just don’t want to leave the house has me looking for options online. Yogadownload.com is one of my go-to yoga options at home or on the go. I have been using them since way back when they were on iTunes and I would sit and wait and wait and wait for a class to download on my super slow internet (totally worth it though). They have over 1500+ classes, including programs (such as a yin yoga option), classes in Spanish, guided meditations, and more. I would highly recommend checking out their classes, and if yin yoga sounds good to you, checking out their yin yoga program. You won’t regret it.
On top of all that, if you’re looking for other ideas for self-care, I’ve got two more posts for you:
5 ways to meditate without actually meditating
40 Easy and (mostly free) ways to turn your day around
Show yourself compassion
Showing yourself compassion could have been incorporated into self-care, but it’s important so I wanted to keep it separate.
When everyone around you is celebrating the holiday season, it can be hard to not feel like you should be too. And if you’re not, guilt can quickly set it, adding on to your sadness (or insert emotion here).
When you say no (remember the first tip?) to a gathering or an item on your to-do list, this is another opportunity guilt likes to take advantage of.
The solution to the guilt you may be feeling is to show yourself some compassion.
Remember that you’re going through a hard time. And that this hard time won’t be forever. Right now you’re taking time for yourself, and that is OK.
How would you coach a friend through what you’re dealing with? Write down what you would do or say, and then read it back to yourself.
I’m going to guess that advice would be filled with empathy, kindness, and yes, compassion. This is how you should be treating yourself too.
Need more motivation? Call a family member or friend who always gives you supportive and loving advice.
Do something nice for someone else
This may seem kind of random, but I promise it’s not. Did you know it’s scientifically proven that doing something kind for someone else helps boost your mood and increase overall happiness?
It’s true. According toone source:
“…kindness is linked inextricably to happiness and contentment—at both the psychological and spiritual level. Over a decade ago, in a study of Japanese undergraduates, researchers, Otake and colleagues, found that happy people were kinder than people who were not happy. Their study also revealed and that one’s sense of happiness increased by the simple act of counting the number of one’s acts of kindness. Counting one’s acts of kindness also led happy people to become more kind and grateful.
Luckily, being kind is easy and budget-friendly. And the holidays, even if you’re not up for celebrating them, are an easy time to find ways to spread kindness.”
Whether it’s complimenting a stranger, sending a card to a friend, to paying for the person’s coffee in the line behind you, the options are endless.
I share a ton of ideas in my kindness/traditions/activity-based advent calendar post.
Like random acts of kindness/being kind, gratitude is another one of those activities that has been scientifically proven to boost happiness (I love science, don’t you?).
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” (source)
Like being kind, gratitude is super budget-friendly (read: free).
To practice gratitude, simply find a scrap piece of paper, notebook, or an official gratitude journal and write down 5-10 things each day that you’re thankful for.
That’s it! Keep at it and start experiencing the benefits.
While practicing gratitude won’t completely erase the sadness, loneliness, or other negative emotion you’re feeling, it can train your brain to start looking for the happy things again, and help you during through this difficult time.
If you want to learn more about how gratitude can positively impact your life, check out my gratitude post here.
Take a break from the news
One of the hardest things for me when I’m going through a hard time and/or a heavy anxiety period is to be constantly attached to the news. And I know I’m not alone.
“More than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result, the survey shows. Yet one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans report “constantly” monitoring their social media feeds—which often exposes them to the latest news headlines, whether they like it or not.” (source)
What’s more, all that extra anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss we get from watching too much news leaches into other parts of our lives. And if you’re already dealing with something hard, it can quickly become overwhelming.
All that being said, I totally understand the desire to want to stay informed with what’s going on in our world. It can be a hard thing to balance.
Here are some of my tips:
- Unfollow all but one international and one local news source on social media. You don’t need to be constantly bombarded
- Read TheSkimm. It’s a daily (M-F) email digest of the biggest stories from the day before. Often, this is my only source of news – yet I never feel like I’ve missed out if something comes up in conversation.
- Unsubscribe from all notifications on your phone
For even more tips, check out my post on this topic here.
Take a break from social media
This tip is somewhat similar to the one above about detaching from the news so I won’t go into a ton of detail.
In a nutshell, we are addicted to our phones, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Remember how I mentioned above that the negative emotions we get from too much news can leach into other areas of our lives? Well, that can happen with social media too. But add in jealousy, comparison, and fear of missing out (something the kids call FOMO), and you’ve got a cocktail no one wants to drink.
When you’re dealing with something hard, try to give yourself space and consider taking a break from social media. You don’t need all that added stress, anxiety and overwhelm in your life. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Instead, use the time you normally spend scrolling doing something for yourself. Scroll on up to the ‘self-care’ tip for ideas.
Here are a few of my tips for detoxing from social media:
- Put a rubber band or hair tie around your phone. This causes you to be intentional about why you’re jumping on board. If it isn’t for a specific reason, find something else to do
- Turn off notifications. You don’t need to be constantly bombarded
- Charge your phone outside of your room. This eliminates the temptation to check your phone first thing in the morning and the last thing before you go to bed at night
If you need more help detoxing from social media, check out my 7 tips on how to do just that here.
Let what is, be
What? Ok, I know that was a fairly Yoda-like sentence (except not backward). What I mean by that is to just let whatever you’re feeling be. To surrender into those feelings (remember yin yoga – this helps with that?).
Surrendering into my debilitating anxiety took me YEARS (not even kidding, like, my whole life amount of years) to figure out. I spent so much time trying to figure out how to fix it. I jumped from person to person, resource to resource, trying to figure out how to ‘cure’ my anxiety. How to make it go away.
But guess what.
Life doesn’t work like that. You can’t just make emotions go away. And when I learned that, it knocked me on my butt faster than any other lesson I’ve learned.
It’s not easy. H, E, double hockey stick no (hell, for those who didn’t try to get away with swearing when they were 10). It’s hell. My mind convinced me for so long to not surrender because that meant I was giving in to the anxiety which was TERRIBLE. If I gave into my anxiety, I would be anxious forever.
But surrendering doesn’t mean ‘giving in’ to whatever emotion you’re fighting with. Surrendering means accepting what is.
Because we’re going to experience negative emotions. I will experience anxiety again. But by simply admitting to myself – “hey, I’m feeling anxious tonight. And that’s OK, because it’s a normal human emotion” (seriously – an actual conversation I have with myself), it instantly puts me in action mode where I get to decide how I want to react, versus flinging myself forward immediately into reaction mode, which is usually not good for anyone.
So while letting yourself be sad, mad, or frustration may seem counter-intuitive and scary, and you may want to try and make it go away, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we have to sit in the uncomfortableness of it all. That’s just part of being human. But by realizing and acknowledging it, you can put yourself in control of how you want to move forward. And I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly empowering – knowing that I will move forward at my own time and that things will get better.
You can’t come to a blog that focuses on mindfulness and not expect to see something on mindfulness in the tips! So, why mindfulness when you’re struggling during the holidays?
““Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” With this in mind, a mindful approach to thinking kind will help you evolve and live a better life.” (source)
If you find that you’re feeling especially sad, anxious, stressed, upset, etc during this holiday season, mindfulness is always a great way to bring yourself back down. It’s not a cure-all, but it can definitely help. Mindfulness is my go-to when I’m deep in the anxiety spiral, and it helps me to surface and calm down.
My favorite mindfulness ‘trick’ is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule. I LOVE doing this outside, but you can do it anywhere.
- Find 5 things you can see
- Find 4 things you can hear
- Find 3 things you can feel
- Find 2 things you can smell
- Find 1 thing you can taste
Repeat as much as you need.
I love this trick because it’s easy to remember (perfect for when my brain is consumed with anxiety), you can literally do it anywhere, and it works!
Want even more mindfulness? Check out how to get 71 mindfulness tips you can implement in 5 minutes or less below, or check out my FREE 7-day mindfulness e-course which introduces a new way to incorporate mindfulness (easily) into your life each day.
If you find you’re having a hard time coping with sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, etc. and you don’t know where to turn, here are some resources to help (it is OK to ask for help!):
As promised, if you know of someone who may be struggling this holiday season, here are some things you can do to help:
So what can you do?
- Show compassion towards those who may not feeling any excitement around the holidays. It may not be the joyous time that we assume it is for everyone.
- If you know of anyone who has experienced loss and is having difficulties coping with the holidays, make sure they know you are there for them.
- Don’t force anyone into doing anything they don’t want to do
- Don’t scoff that they aren’t participating in holiday traditions (decorating, attending events, gift giving, etc). It may be too much for them, or maybe they simply can’t afford it.
- If you are worried, encourage them to join a support group or talk to a professional
- Invite people over, and don’t be offended if they decline
- If you know of someone who doesn’t have a lot of people in their lives, in town, or any other scenario where someone may be feeling lonely, reach out and invite them to your gatherings. Tis the season of giving!
- Let them know they’re not alone and that you’re there for them
- Share this post with them! Let them know it’s OK they’re not looking forward to the holidays
- Refer them to the resources above for any assistance with anxiety, depression, or suicide. Assure them it’s OK to ask for help! Be with them while they call/go online if you can
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Some great advice here. Self care and kindness are both so important.
These are really great tips. You are so right, the Holidays can be so lonely for some, and people forget to practice empathy, especially when their consumed with their own happiness.
Yes, we need this all throughout the year. But we also need to stop pressuring people and making them feel worse just because they don’t feel so “jolly”
Thank you for sharing this! It’s so important to touch on these issues, especially during the holidays. I really loved how you talked about boundaries, and the ability to say no! It’s so important (sooo many holiday parties!!) and more people need to get comfortable with being okay saying no.
[…] What to do if you Feel Sad During the Holidays (with 10 Actionable Tips to help Cope) […]
[…] extra debilitating. If this is you, or if you know someone who is like this, check out my post with 10 tips to cope through the holiday season if you’re feeling sad, and know that you are not […]
I try to NEVER watch the news. It is so hard nowadays with it constantly being plastered all over social media. I stressed out so much during 9/11 and my dad told me my great-grandma (who lived to be 100) NEVER watched the news, so since then, I’ve tried to stay away. It is sad that it is rarely good stuff!
Awesome advice! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for this! Your list is so important!