When the holidays get you down

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By Andrea Craig, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner


The holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, many people I have seen in my practice over the years feel particularly disheartened or resentful of the holidays.

There’s no right way to feel during this time of year, but the pressure to feel joy and happiness can be especially discouraging. Many factors contribute to these emotions, such as finances, loneliness, and grief, but there are solutions for each of these.


For those on a budgetFrustrated dad looking at receipts and bills during Christmas time

One of the biggest causes of depression around the holidays that I see is finances. In today’s consumer-centric world, there’s heavy pressure on people to spend lots of money and to buy lots of gifts. As a result, many people feel guilty for not being able to afford gifts, parents and grandparents especially.

Despite what mainstream society wants us to think, I believe that there’s more to the holidays than giving and receiving gifts, and this time of year can be enjoyed without spending heaps of money.

If you don’t have the funds to buy gifts, first try giving the gift of time. Make a point to spend time with people. In fact, this gift may be more cherished than a new toy in the long run.

Here are some other ideas to keep the holiday expenses low:

  • Drive around town to look at lights.
  • Bake cookies.
  • Watch a movie on TV and have a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Play a board game while listening to Christmas music.
  • Only do stocking stuffers.
  • Go skating or sledding.
  • Get involved in community events, such as visiting Santa Claus or lighting ceremonies.
  • Find creative projects to make with materials found around the house.
  • Buy a few inexpensive gifts and play a game when opening them.
  • Write friends and family a personalized letter instead of getting gifts.
  • Give handmade gifts.
  • Sell old toys or clothes in order to buy new ones.
  • Volunteer for others in need.


A Caucasian woman is indoors in her living room. There is a Christmas tree in the background.

For those who are lonely

Another cause of sadness around the holidays is not having anyone to spend time with. This is especially difficult if you see other people celebrating together.

Because it’s supposed to be such a happy time of year, if you don’t feel any of that joy due to loneliness, it intensifies your negative feelings.

If you’re feeling up to it, try some of these methods to combat loneliness:

  • See what’s available in the community in terms of activities or celebrations.
  • Get involved in a local church. Even if you don’t share the faith, churches can offer other solutions in terms of companionship and feeling involved.
  • Seek out others around you who are in a similar circumstance. Though it may not feel like it, there are many others who are experiencing what you are.
  • Volunteer. This can take your mind off of loneliness by focusing on the needs of others.


For those who are grieving

Sometimes, the holidays bring up past feelings of grief or intensify new ones. This is especially hard during the first year and the first holiday.

A Depressed adult male looks out a window past christmas decorations with christmas lights in the background.Instead of trying to suppress thoughts of your loved one during the holidays, I encourage you to embrace those thoughts.

Try starting a new tradition in memory of that person. For instance, purchase an ornament in honor of that person to hang on the tree. Share stories about them to make them a special part of the holiday. Include their favorite foods in the holiday menu.

This might make you feel guilty about enjoying the holiday without your loved one. I just want you to know that it’s OK to celebrate the holiday and to feel happiness. But it’s also OK if you don’t feel like celebrating.

For those spending time with a grieving individual, ask how you can best support them, and try to make things less stressful, perhaps by taking care of the meal or hosting. Some people would feel better by not participating in the holiday at all, and that’s OK. It’s just important to give this individual the chance to say yes or no.


About the Author: Andrea Craig works in behavioral health at Tri-County Health Care and is board certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She is a graduate of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.