When You Just Don’t Feel Jolly

Sad woman at the holidays. Many people struggle to feel festive in December.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Everyone feels happy and warm and joyful, right? Well, maybe not everyone. For a variety of reasons, many people struggle to feel festive in December. Common causes of downheartedness include:

  • Missing a loved one who has passed away
  • Struggling with a recent divorce
  • Worrying over a straying child
  • Agonizing over a sick friend or family member
  • Suffering from loneliness
  • Fretting about finances
  • Battling an illness
  • Stressing about employment or unemployment

In addition, many suffer a general malaise from “Facebook Syndrome,” where we see everyone else having a fun, wonderful, and perfectly planned holiday while we are overwhelmed and behind.

The bottom line is, sometimes we just don’t feel jolly. So what can we do?

Don’t Feel Pressured to Pretend

If someone asks, “How are you?” you don’t have to say, “Good.” Find a phrase that summarizes how you are honestly feeling, without making the other person regret having asked. For example, you might say, “I’ve been going through a lot lately, but I’m trying to focus on the good things and stay positive.” Feigned cheerfulness can actually lead to deeper depression as we subtly communicate that our feelings are somehow wrong and should be hidden.

Treat Yourself to a Visceral Pleasure

Since exhaustion and sadness are real, we need to intentionally counteract them with positive, tactile stimuli. How we choose to do this will vary widely, as we all enjoy different things. Some may seek physical release through exercise or a brisk walk, while others prefer to stretch out in a bubble bath. Maybe you enjoy an indulgent treat, or granting yourself an hour to sit in front of the tree and listen to music that touches your soul. When you are going through tough times, bring some creature comforts along for the journey.

Do For Others

When life throws us a curveball, it is hard to stop thinking about our upsetting circumstances. Dire situations are often omnipresent, and we can’t get a mental break from all that is worrisome. One of the best ways to get out of your head is to serve someone else. Volunteer at a shelter, pray for someone, be a listening ear, shop for gifts, write a note, deliver a meal… do whatever you can to get your mind off of yourself and onto someone else. Doing for others is one of the best ways to step away from your struggles and refresh your stressed-out mind.

Turn Off Social Media

Nothing makes us feel as badly as comparing our inside/private lives to other peoples’ outside/public lives. We know intellectually that most people post only their best moments, and yet we somehow feel like our lives should be similarly terrific all the time. If you are having a challenging holiday season, it might be wise to just get off of social media all together. It is lovely that other people are enjoying their holiday season, but doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself.

Allow Yourself to Laugh

Last January I decided to follow in the footsteps of some of my fellow bloggers and adopt a theme word for the year. The word I chose was, “laugh,” and throughout the year I have been actively pursuing laughter. Laughing is actually good for us, increasing blood flow, aiding sleep, and improving immunity. It can also be helpful for relieving tension and restoring perspective.

If you are having a tough holiday season, why not distract yourself with something that makes you laugh? I’ll get you started with a few things that have made me laugh this year:

Cats and Cucumbers




Downton Abbey Moment


“Brexit is a terrible name, sounds like cereal you eat when you are constipated.”

Tiff Stevenson


Bob left work one Friday evening.

But it was payday, so instead of going home, he stayed out the entire weekend partying with his mates and spending his entire wages.

When he finally appeared at home on Sunday night, he was confronted by his angry wife and was barraged for nearly two hours with a tirade befitting his actions. Finally his wife stopped the nagging and said to him, “How would you like it if you didn’t see me for two or three days?”

He replied, “That would be fine with me.”

Monday went by and he didn’t see his wife.

Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with the same results.

But on Thursday, the swelling went down just enough where he could see her a little out of the corner of his left eye.

*     *     *     *     *

The way we experience the holiday season will differ from year to year, and some years will be smoother than others. Do what you can to make the most of where you are, and remember that next year may have wonderful things in store.

Have you struggled to feel festive? What tips do you have for finding peace in the midst of chaos?

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34 thoughts on “When You Just Don’t Feel Jolly”

    1. I learned that from someone who struggles with depression. Every now and then she tells me she is disabling FB for awhile because she just can’t handle it. I think it is so wise to be able to recognize this need.

    1. My heart goes out to your, Susan. The whole first year after losing a loved one is incredibly rough, especially the holidays. Wishing you a special blessing of comfort and peace as you serve others through the grief.

  1. This is wonderful, Seana. Your point is well taken and I love all your tips. This is a hard year for me personally – for the first time ever in my life I will be spending Christmas without any family. I’m not sad just resigned that this will be a different year. So I’ve done some note writing, helped some friends with their decorating, decorated my house and put up outside lights for the first time ever! I’m fine mostly because I decided to get outside myself and make the most of everything that I can.

    1. It is so hard to be missing people during the holidays, for any reason (divorce, death, deployment…) Sometimes it feels like you are living in a parallel world, where other people around you are living normal lives, and you are going through this unique and difficult situation. I affirm you for deciding to put some activities into your season to get you through, and send you warm thoughts and wishes for peace and contentment in the midst!!

    1. I’m sure your local merchants so appreciate your business! It’s very interesting to see how our stressors differ. My daughter would gladly do your shopping if you could do her wrapping:)

  2. With all the focus on “happy” holidays, it’s wonderful that you’ve acknowledged and validated how so many feel during this season…the exact opposite of that. Not only have you acknowledged it, but you’ve also shared some excellent strategies for managing depression and sadness. I especially appreciate your advice about not feeling pressured to pretend. It’s also an important reminder for those of us that ARE feeling “jolly” to be extra sensitive to those that are having a very different experience.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Find Your Balance During This SeasonMy Profile

    1. I was just having that same thought about this being important for those are lucky enough to be in a good spot… to be sensitive to the fact that others might be feeling differently. Sometimes we can give a wonderful gift by being willing to actually hear an honest answer when we ask, “How are you?” You never know who might need a chance to really talk and be heard!

  3. Such wise and thoughtful wisdom for those who struggle to find the joy of Christmas! For many people Christmas is a difficult time and I think you did a great job of not only validating and giving permission for people to feel that way, but you offered helpful advice that wasn’t just “get over it and move on”. Wonderful post and I especially enjoyed the humor at the end 🙂
    Liana George recently posted…12 Days of Christmas Prep: Days 7 – 12My Profile

    1. There is no silver bullet for sadness, loneliness or grief, but I hope that those who are struggling at least know that they are not alone in feeling this way. Sometimes laughter can be a big help, and other times I just need to sit with my feelings and have a good cry. Both are valid!

    1. I think we all have those years… and yet we think we shouldn’t. We believe that everyone else is happy and wonderful, and we are alone in our sadness or loneliness or grief. It is encouraging to cling to the fact that life always changes, often for the better, so the way we feel now isn’t the way we will always feel. And the “doing for others” is a great way to shift our perspective and give us hope:)

  4. Thank you Seana. This is very true and I think sometimes we tend to forget that not everyone is overly joyed over the holidays. I just lost a loved one a few days ago and I am struggling with being happy, but I will do my best because that is what she would have wanted. I am going to take your advice and treat myself to some alone time and maybe some chocolate. I love chocolate. lol

    1. I’m with you on the chocolate, Kathy. In my house (with daughters only), I try to always have Advil and chocolate around, which helps with about 80% of the problems! I’m so sorry for your loss and am sending warm thoughts your way…

  5. I think holiday stress results when you have unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Sometimes you just have to simplify. And let go of old traditions (such as the ones involving loved ones who have passed away) and start new ones. I’ll be sharing this. Thanks, Seana!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Org4life Holiday RoundupMy Profile

    1. Such a good point about being willing to let go of old traditions and start new ones. Sometimes we are trying to rigidly squeeze each year into an old mold that no longer fits, such as when there is a new, blended family. Traditions are wonderful things, but they need to morph to help us enjoy the holiday, not make our experience more difficult or less pleasant! Thanks for sharing, Hazel.

  6. This is an amazing post, Seana! I know many people who are going through one of these issues and your advice is not only helpful to them, but a good reminder to everyone else to be sensitive to the feelings of others.

    1. When things are going well, it is easy to forget that others are truly struggling. I appreciate your kind affirmation, and hope this post shares a little love with people at any point in the journey!

  7. I think many people feel depressed or down over the holidays with the winter weather, holiday pressure, and intensified family issues. I think those are some good tips and people should carve out some time for themselves. I for one am looking forward to a quieter inbox and less time spent on social media time over the holidays! The story of poor Bob made me laugh!
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted…Afternoon Tea in Albuquerque New Mexico at St. James TearoomMy Profile

  8. Now that you mentioned word of the year, I immediately thought of mine or if I even had one. I knew I had. Then I remember it’s “explore”.. I almost forgot about it although I have been exploring so much this year.

    I totally agree with Facebook syndrome and even Instagram. I always have to remind myself to be happy for others and not to be upset if I feel like I’m missing out.
    Rea recently posted…Canton King: Where Happy Place & Comfort Food MeetMy Profile

    1. Yes, Instagram is just as bad. In fact, whatever social media sight you tend to spend time looking at and evaluating your life! Explore is a terrific word. If it didn’t work out this year, maybe keep it around for 2017. I’ve been starting to think about what my word for next year may be… fun to consider!

  9. It’s important for us all to remember that we celebrate in different ways. It’s important to remember that grief is different for all of us. I am so glad that you shared this post at this time. We need to listen and think. Let’s be thoughtful about our responses and what we share on social media.

    1. Some people are in such a rough place at this time of year, so I hope this helps us remember to at least think before we speak (or write). Eventually we all have a year when things just aren’t going so well, so nurturing an increased sensitivity will always serve us well. Thanks for the comment, Ellen!

  10. I agree this time of year is hard for everyone who have lost a loved one. For me, I prefer not to change the traditions I had with the love ones that passed. It makes me feel connected to them even if they are there is spirit. Thanks for the reminder to be yourself and to have the holidays the way you want to have them. Peace.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Gluten Free Chocolate Chip MacaroonsMy Profile

    1. Peace to you as well, Sabrina. Your point is the right one – we should do whatever makes us feel best. If carrying on the traditions makes you feel close to loved ones you’ve lost, then by all means carry on. If it brings pain, or you are frazzled or struggling financially and can’t execute as you have in previous years, let it go. Allow yourself to feel your true feelings, and then to celebrate in the way that is best for you:)

  11. Such a pertinent post this time of year. I love your point about not feigning happiness. Fake it til you make it doesn’t always apply and can do more harm than good! And btw, love that Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. 🙂

    1. This may be more your area of expertise than mine, but I think all of us need to give ourselves permission to experience our true feelings, and hopefully to be sensitive to other people’s as well. I bet you could write a post on this with even more concrete ideas!

    1. My condolences on that difficult loss at such a young age. That must have just been terribly difficult. To think we won’t be sad, depressed, and struggling when we lose someone we love is unrealistic, and we need to allow ourselves to feel what is perfectly natural.

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