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When the Holidays Are Upsetting

The holidays are a beautiful, joyous time—but not for everyone. For many people the holidays spotlight what’s missing in their lives. A person. A good job. Enough money. Close relationships. Love. For many people there are wounds, fresh ones or recently scarred, but wounds nonetheless.

And, as everyone is celebrating, we beat ourselves up for these feelings. Everyone is so happy. What is wrong with me? 

Of course, everyone isn’t happy. But it feels that way. And you can’t help but compare your insides to everyone’s outsides. You can’t help but scroll social media, and make yourself feel even worse and worse: the images of holiday cards, and vibrant smiles and matching outfits; the festive decorations; the packed gatherings filled with fancy foods and fancy centerpieces; the sponsored gifts. You don’t even know if you want to decorate this year or if you want to cook or if you want to do anything festive, but the pangs of pain still knock against your ribcage.

You can’t help reminding yourself just how amazing everyone else’s holidays seem to be going—and how yours is the exact opposite.

The best thing to do (after getting off social media) is to release the thoughts and feelings that are swimming inside your brain and body. Write about them. Write about the pain. Write about the heartache. Write about the anger. Write about the fear and the uncertainty, and how the unknown has been keeping you up on some nights.

Write about the loss that still lingers, and will linger for years. Write about the sweet memories, and maybe the not-so sweet ones, if that’s what’s on your mind.

Write about your frustration with the pain. Write about your sadness over being sad. Write about your wish that things were different. In other words, be honest with yourself.

Don’t dismiss these feelings. Don’t put on a smile. Don’t think you’re a ridiculous person for feeling this way. Whatever you’re experiencing, write it down.

Maybe you simply start with: Right now I’m feeling…. And honestly, that makes me feel…. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about…. I’m really missing…. What my heart really wants me to know is…. I can’t get this memory out of my mind…. This object, movie, song, tradition, meal makes me think of …. which makes me want to cry. For me, the most painful part of the holiday is….

It’s also helpful to share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust, maybe someone who’s been there, or who’s currently in a similar boat. (Or maybe consider seeing a therapist to help you process your pain.)

And when or if you’re ready, refocus on the traditions that do bring you joy or comfort—however small or silly they might seem at first. Taking slow sips of your favorite hot chocolate. Making paper snowflakes. Watching Hallmark movies. Using coloring books. Decorating a small tree with natural materials like leaves, pinecones, twigs and berries. Engage in these traditions, not because you should, but because you genuinely want to. Or create your own traditions, which have zero to do with the holidays but nourish you greatly.

Essentially, give yourself permission to do what works best for you right now.

Photo by Alexey Kuzmin on Unsplash.
When the Holidays Are Upsetting

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2017). When the Holidays Are Upsetting. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 2 Dec 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Dec 2017
Published on All rights reserved.