Sadness during the holiday season can be triggered by many things. Maybe you live far away from your loved ones. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who don’t understand you. Maybe you’ve lost someone special. Maybe you’ve never liked this time of year. Maybe you’re not sure why you’re so upset.
Either way, experiencing sadness is especially tough when it seems like everyone around you is jolly and carefree. So maybe you fake it. You put on your mask, complete with a massive grin, and pretend everything is great! Everything is fantastic! You’re soooo blessed and excited!
But, of course, this only makes you feel worse. It only makes you feel sadder and lonelier. And it disconnects you further from yourself.
Instead, clinical psychologist Deborah Serani, Psy.D., suggested focusing on what you need this holiday season (versus what you want). Focusing on needs helps you reconnect to your “inner self,” she said.
“Needs are things like comfort, peace, ease,” said Serani, author of the novel The Ninth Session and several books on coping with depression. Needs, she noted, provide security and sustenance. Wants, on the other hand, “may be ‘the perfect holiday,’ or ‘no drama at family gatherings,’ or unrealistic expectations.”
It’s often these wants that can amplify and perpetuate our sadness. Because when you expect something that rarely happens—perfection—you’ll feel disappointed and deflated.
Focusing on our needs grounds us in self-care, Serani said. She shared these examples of meeting your needs:
- To experience comfort, you get enough restful sleep and relax on the couch with a great book.
- To experience peace, you spend time with loving people.
- To experience ease, you delegate chores and focus on what the holidays are really about for you, which might center around religion and spirituality.
Take some time today to ask yourself: What do I need right now? What do I need for the rest of this month?
Respond to these questions in your journal, since writing down your thoughts helps you to better understand them. Then think about how you can meet these important needs, which might include everything from watching a funny movie tonight to taking a yoga class tomorrow morning to saying a special prayer as you light the menorah.
Of course, focusing on our needs isn’t just for the holidays. We can extend this attitude and approach into the new year. Serani suggested asking yourself, “What do I need more of in my life?”
She noted that it could be more solitude or more quality time with friends. It could be more therapy sessions or more walks in nature. It could be more playful activities and more laughter. It could be meditation and more fun movement.
You also could ask yourself what you need less of in your life. It could be less stuff and less running around. It could be less time spent with people whose company you actually don’t enjoy. It could be less work, saving your evenings for reading, relaxing, and watching TV. It could be getting rid of certain stressors in your life.
When we dismiss our feelings or pretend they don’t exist, we dismiss ourselves. Acknowledging your sadness doesn’t mean wallowing in it and swearing off fun, festive activities.
It means giving yourself the best gift of all: listening to yourself, and providing what you really need on a soul level.