Suggestions for Dealing with the Holiday Blues

By Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT

It is important to recognize it is not unusual to feel sad or depressed during the holiday season or around other special dates -- anniversaries of births or deaths or special occasions. Holidays and special dates can trigger an episode of the blues, feelings of loneliness, depression and melancholy, especially if one is still in an active grieving process.

Here is a list of suggestions to help you cope:

-It's okay to cry.

-Especially if you are grieving, don't trying to be all things for all people. Learn to set realistic limits on your energies.

-Make time for yourself. If possible, do something self-indulgent, such as getting a massage, a new hair cut or even just taking a bubble bath.

-Call, visit, write or e-mail a long-lost friend, someone who is house-bound, or an elderly relative.

-Get plenty of sleep and exercise.

-Try to minimize drinking and eating. During periods of the blues, drinking can contribute to the depression and the associated guilt.

-Spend time with people who care about you, who are nurturing and supportive. Try and limit the amount of time spent with people who drive you crazy.

-Enjoy free activities:
  • Walk in the community park
  • Watch the sunset
  • Smell baking bread
  • Browse through books or magazines in bookstores or grocery stores (especially in sections you don't normally visit)
  • Window shop without buying
  • Listen to outdoor Christmas concerts
  • Enjoy Christmas carolers

-Donate your money or time to a local charity. It’s a way of helping those who may have less.

-Keep daily expectations manageable. Set realistic goals, decide what you can comfortably handle, and let your family and friends know about your limitations.

-Realize that each holiday, birthday or anniversary is only one day. Take them one occasion at a time.

-Consider doing something in memory of departed loved ones:
  • Set up a scholarship
  • Dedicate a bench or plaque
  • Plant a tree
  • Adopt a needy family
  • Donate money to their favorite cause
  • Publish an ad in the local paper to remember an anniversary

-Create rituals to remember the loved one:
  • Light a special candle
  • Play a favorite song
  • Hang a certain ornament
  • Hang a stocking for the loved one in which people can include notes
  • Listen to music your loved one liked
  • Write letters or notes expressing your feelings and share them with others if it seems appropriate

-Get out in nature. Walk, hike, or just enjoy feeling the winter chill.

-It's okay to enjoy yourself, to laugh and to have fun. Laughter is healing and is not a sign of disrespect. Think about the person you have lost and try to imagine asking them the question, "Is it OK for me to enjoy myself now?" I think you will discover the answer to be "YES."

-Blow bubbles (it makes you feel like a kid again!)

-Go to or rent an uplifting movie. Some of the ones that always make me feel better are:
  • "It's a Wonderful Life"
  • "Miracle on 34th Street"
  • "Sleepless in Seattle"
  • "Forrest Gump"
  • "Apollo 13"
  • "The Princess Bride"
  • "Bed of Roses"
  • "It Could Happen to You"
  • "Sleeping Beauty"
  • "The Sound of Music"
  • "The Wizard of Oz"
  • "The Full Monty"
  • "Ever After"

-Buy a tree or plant, then create a ceremony to plant it.

-Look for activities at your local recreation department or community college.

-See a play or a concert at a high school or college. Check your local paper for listings and ideas.

-Attend a church service.

-Attend a poetry reading.

-Start a journal to record your thoughts, feelings and writings -- to share or just to get out of your system.

-Join a health club, YMCA or local park and recreation department for exercise classes.

-Try to keep a cheerful disposition with sales clerks, people waiting in lines, people in the produce section of the grocery store, etc.

-Simple, genuine statements can often lead to conversations. For example, "I need to pick a present for my [fill in the blank]. What do you think of this?" or "What a handsome dog!"

-Keep trying. You may find someone else who is also experiencing the blues and would welcome the chance to talk with a pleasant stranger and may become a new friend.

Related articles:
Managing the Holidays
So Let Us Celebrate
Handling the Holidays

Also by Kirsti A. Dyer:
Creatively Coping With Grief

Kirsti A. Dyer Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT is a respected physician specializing in life challenges, loss, grief and bereavement. A professional health educator, professor, lecturer and author, she created the Journey of Hearts Web site in 1997 as the first and only physician-based Web site devoted to educating people about the grief response. She continues to provide resources, information and support through her blog.


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Comment by Dorcas Cummings on July 3, 2014 at 9:40am

It will be 5 years tomorrow on July 4th 2009, since my husband passed. I thought about him this morning. I cried of course. It was just like the memories of my husband passing seems fresh in my mind. The pain is still there, but not as intense. I thank God, my children, some friends and definitely this website. I know healing is a daily process. My motto is take one day at a time,that really does help. I also think about the good memories of my husband. Sometimes you don't realize what you have until your loved one is no longer here. So I am learning to appreciate my loved ones that are still here with me.

Comment by Nancy McDonald on October 3, 2013 at 3:01pm

Strangely enough, after reading about the loss of other readers parents, I realized that the sudden loss of my brother during the holidays was worse for me than the deaths of my mom and dad.  My sister once said that our brother "chose his own way to go".  His death was far more catastrophic for me since he was the first very close family member to pass on.  After that, when my parents died at 77 and 84 of health-related illnesses, I was very sad and was able to cry and then feel better.  With my brother's manner of death, I cried but never openly.  I could tell my huiband and sons really didn't understand my wild and crazy emotions.  So I kept those feeling inside.  That was a mistake on my part.  By never talking about my brother, I wasn't giving friends and family members a chance to listen and let me air my feelings.  Why was this important?  Because these feelings WILL come out eventually.  It's better to talk about them than to suffer inwardly or engage in destructive behaviors. 

Comment by Linda Cohn on December 24, 2012 at 4:58pm

Here it is Christmas Eve..I was sitting here feeling the blues and crying when I decided to get on this page to help me thru the pain Im feeling..My loving Mother will be gone 5 years on Friday,then thinking of my dear husband that I lost 10 years ago and a brother July of this year..I asked GOD why so many people have to die,its so heart breaking for all of us to go through,,Friday will be a bad day for me,my mom was my buddy,best friend and a loving mother..Thank you for sending me an email to join your site, it does ease some of the pain I feel..Thanks again and you all try and have a merry christmas..

Comment by PAM BRYAN on December 20, 2009 at 4:51pm
My son passed away last year oct.3rd 08 It seem like last year i must of been in shock,this year is sooo hard. Justins mom pam
Comment by Cora on November 24, 2009 at 6:58pm
To CDJBlue...PLEASE know that you WILL make it. It's hard to see that now, but know and trust you will learn how to live with your "new" normal. I cannot recommend enough to find a grief support group. If you have never experienced "counseling" please know that sometimes, taking that first step to go is the hardest. Once you experience it, you will be SO glad you did. Ask a friend to help you find a group. Blessings....
Comment by CDJBlue on November 18, 2009 at 7:15pm
My sister died in June 2005 and I continue to miss her very much and think of her often. My mother died on April 25, 2009 and I am frankly surprised by the intensity of my pain. My grandmother died on Oct. 21, 2009 and her sister, my aunt, died on Oct. 31, 2009. I was the person responsible for them and I paid their bills, their caregiver, shopped for their food and other necessities, etc. They lived together and people in the neighborhood, at their church, etc. referred to them as "The Twins". They were really very cute and joyful. They both always sang around the house. I always knew that they would probably die together, as they have done everything else together and when Granny died, I knew that Irene would soon follow. I find that I am significantly more distressed by the death of these 2 dear little ladies. They were always my strength. My Granny always loved me unconditionally and in my entire life I have never questioned her love as I always wondered about my mother. My family think that I now have a lot of money, which I don't....need I say more?! I feel so alone and isolated. I am now the family matriarch, as the oldest member of the family. I feel old now. My body aches. I think that I might not make it. I'm so incredibly sad.
Comment by BRENDA on February 28, 2009 at 4:32am
THE TIME HAS COME FOR ME TO LET MY FEELING'S TO COME TO TO KNOW THE DAY THAT A LOVE ONE HAS DIED .TO LET MY TEARS FALL WHERE THEY MAY FALL. JUST KNOW THE ONE'S THAT HAVE DIED WILL ONE DAY JOIN US TO CELEBRATE OUR NEW LIFE IN NO MORE PAIN AND ALL THAT CANCER HAS TAKING FROM OUR LIVE'S AND BODY..TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR TO SEE THE CARING AND LOVING PERSON THAT USE TO BE FUNNY AND ALL THINGS TO MAKE THEM LOVEABLE AGAIN..CANCER HAS TAKING IT'S TOLL ON US TO LOOK OLDER AND NOT BEING THE PERSON WE USE TO BE.JOIN IN TO LOVE THE TIME WE HAVE WITH OUR LOVE ONE'S TO KNOW THERE MAY NOT BE NO TOMORROW TOGETHER..KNOW THAT WE CAN STILL SHOW THE LOVE AND CARE WE HAVE IN US..I TRY TO HAVE COFFEE AND CAKE TO SHOW THE TIME IM GLAD ITS TO BE SHARED WITH GOD AND HIS GLORY THAT HES GIVING TO ME AND THE TIME I HAVE ON THIS EARTH.JUST SMILE AT THE SHYS TO SAY IVE GOT ANOTHER DAY IN THIS LIFE TIME..BLESS THE ONE CLOSE TO YOU.TO SHARE A KIND TIME HERE TOGETHER.

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