CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Does it seem that everywhere you look you see images of happiness and glee? Anticipation of close family gatherings and chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
You're not exactly feeling it, though, and you don't know why. Holidays can do that to us. Internally, there are huge emotional triggers. And, externally, it's hard to sustain that level of heartfelt awe in the Folgers coffee commercials or Hallmark movies.
It's normal to feel some sadness during the holidays -- either from memories of past experiences or uncertainties about the present and future. As psychologist Mark Sichel notes, you can't expect the holidays to be just as they were when you were a child. They never are. You're not the same as when you were a child, and neither is anyone else in the family.
This time of year can definitely be challenging for those who have lost a cherished family member -- whether that's a fellow human or a furry family member. And it's particularly difficult if this is a "first."
Whether your feelings of sadness go from melancholy on one end of the spectrum to full-blown depression on the other end -- or somewhere in between -- know that you are not alone.
The experience is different for each of us. And there's no magic bullet. If you try to gloss over everything, stuff down your feelings and just put on a happy face, those feelings will rear their ugly heads in some other way. On the other hand, you don't want to totally wallow in self pity, either -- even if it seems justified.
This is really an inside job. It's so important right now to be gentle with yourself. Thinking you "should" feel this way or that you "should" take part in that activity only accelerates the problem. So, stop "shoulding" on yourself.
It's particularly important to have some anchors. Round up materials to have on hand when those holiday blues hit you. Maybe it's some inspirational reading. Or a favorite CD or movie. Taking a walk in nature or luxuriating in a hot bubble bath can work wonders.
These are effective timeout strategies that nurture your soul. And they can help you move through these periods. As a disclaimer, I must note that I'm looking at coping strategies to deal with the cyclical ups and downs of holiday periods, not chronic clinical depression.
Here are a few additional tips from the Mayo Clinic:
Acknowledge your feelings: If someone close to you has died or you can't be with loved ones, realize it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings.