How to survive the holidays if you’re depressed, grieving, or just a misanthrope

survive holidays depression grief

Every year it’s the same: The holidays approach and I internally seize up. OK, the next few months are gonna suck, I warn myself. My mom died around the holidays (in case the title of this post not warn you, this post is gonna be a li’l dark), effectively leaching varying amounts of holiday delight from a formerly favorite season. A decade into grief, I’m a little less self-absorbed and know that the holidays are tough for LOTS of folks. So here’s a survival guide for me, you, anyone curmudgeonly or grieving or vitamin D deficient (heh).

Lots and lots of SELF-CARE.

I read somewhere that “self-care” can be an excuse to be an asshole (“Sorry, I can’t fulfill XYZ obligation because SELF-CARE”), but honestly that seems to be confusing self-care with selfish. You can be kind to yourself without hurting other people and/or being a narcissist. Prioritizing your needs (sleep, healthy food, activity, social contact, creative expression, etc.) is not the same as disrespecting other people. This time of year, when I’m feeling more rundown and grumpier than usual (which is saying something), it’s good to remember, Oh yeah, I need to be extra-gentle with myself right now. If I feel like a gross lumpy slob, would I feel better if I went to the gym? Or try to lovingly accept said slobness in the moment and curl up on the couch, determined to do better tomorrow? Point is, it’s more effective (and feels better) to take the hate-y red laserbeams I WANT to shoot out my eyeballs at strangers and turn them into loving glittery sauna rays gyrating inside my soul. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

Miscellaneous ideas for self-care: Take 5 minutes to stretch. Take a brief walk around the block (fresh air is amazing). See what’s trending on YouTube and watch a quick video. Look at kittens or puppies online, or a site that makes you laugh (it’s Clickhole for me). Buy yourself something tiny and sweet like a flavored chapstick or seasonal herbal tea. Read a favorite book–somehow knowing the ending makes it reassuring. Tell someone you love you’re down and ask them for some encouragement!

sleeping woman in bed


There’s a time and place for sitting alone with your thoughts and staring out the train window/hotel window/whatever, but sometimes silence gives way to a familiar chorus of negative self-talk that you just can’t deal with. Top 40 holiday tunez sometimes jumpstart my mood due to their sheer cheesiness–I mean, who can resist NSYNC’s “Kiss Me at Midnight“? There’s also this Britney gem and, for a more relaxing vibe, Ariana Grande’s Christmas + Chill. Or on the flipside, try more soothing holiday music like George Winston’s December or Sufjan Stevens’ mass of Christmas songs.

Of course, you can shun Christmas music altogether! Make a special playlist of your most calming songs–mine is called “Ubersoothe” and it’s helped me fend off many a panic attack (that and the yoga child pose). Doesn’t matter what’s on it (Enya? NO JUDGMENT!) as long as you feel all safe & cocooned when you listen to it.

Make decisions slowly.

Take a sec to pause and get in touch with your gut/intuition before saying yes or no to holiday invitations. I considered spending Thanksgiving alone as a sort of “fuck you” but realized I’d just be kind of miserable sitting on the couch binge-watching Netflix yet again while other peeps were with their families. So instead of a) being alone b) hanging with uber-conservative immediate family, a third surprising choice revealed itself: c) hang out with OTHER relatives a bit farther away who share my Trump hate. Ding ding ding! You’ll know in your gut when you find the right decision, even if it’s elusive at first. You don’t have to sit back and unhappily go along with the way things always are (my therapist calls this bringing your locus of control internal instead of external). You can invent a new way to do things that meets your needs and helps you get through a tough time!

just a li'l pep talk
just a li’l pep talk

Find safe people to confide in.

Whether it’s a close friend, favorite coworker, or far-flung sibling with Skype, identify your go-to people who are willing and able to share your holiday misery (therapists are PERFECT for this too!). I probably don’t need to tell the CEO at work why I’m frowny in the kitchen, but if someone I’m not close to asks, a simple “The holidays are a tough time of year for me” suffices quite nicely. Then lean on your Inner Circle/girl squad/whathaveyou for cathartic full-body sobs, lonely 10pm texts, and all those other superfun parts of holiday sadness.

Try new things.

Attempting a new task and even partially succeeding is great for self-esteem and can shake up the Christmas doldrums in the best sort of disruptive way. I always kind of scorned baking (which my sister rules at), thinking of myself as The Undomestic Sister. Turns out, Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift are right–it’s oddly satisfying (and smells fucking amazing to boot). Take a new class, try rockclimbing, I dunno–do something outside your usual routine and watch yourself flourish. It feels great.

Watch your finances.

I know, I feel like a buzzkill-y old aunt here, but the holidays are stressful and the last thing you need is more stress in the form of huge credit card bills and budget-related regret. Who says you have to spend loads of money on everyone you’ve ever met? Pick your closest handful of peeps and get them each ONE nice gift. Bam, you’re done! No January wallet hangover necessary. (You can even just make people gifts, if that’s your thing.)


Hang in there–the season will pass (it always does). Soon enough we’ll be approaching the next holiday to hate: Valentine’s Day! 😉


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