How to Handle the Holiday Blues

The Christmas season is a time of great joy, but for many people it is also a time of pain and darkness. These ‘holiday blues’ can be due to the darker days, family strife, or grief over the loss of a loved one. No matter the cause, it can be very difficult, especially if you feel pressure to act merry and bright when you are feeling anything but.

Fr. Tom Wilson, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently stopped by The Inner Life® to talk about how to handle the holiday blues and find the light even amidst the darkness.

Fr. Wilson said, “I think one of the first things we have to do in dealing with the situations of our darkness is to be honest about the darkness. I think that we live in a culture that not only permits, but I think frankly encourages us, to sort of gloss over those things. And maybe even pretend that they’re not there. And you know what? I don’t think God ever asks us to pretend.”

“I don’t think He asks us to pretend that we’re not sitting in a period of darkness, or that we’re not experiencing hurt or pain. I think the first step is to acknowledge we’re in that darkness. Once we do, and we speak to God about it, then we can invite the light of Christ into our lives, and we can begin taking the steps to allow Him to take us out of that darkness.”

Fr. Wilson also pointed out that for many people, the cause of their holiday blues actually has nothing to do with the holiday, but with the physical realities of winter. “Less light means, for a lot of people, less energy. The light helps bring a lighter disposition into our hearts, and makes it easier to kind of deal with things. People’s dispositions are affected by the weather, they’re affected by daylight, and lack thereof. And I think we need to be honest with ourselves about that.”

But he also acknowledged the ways that Christmas, in particular, can bring sadness when it doesn’t measure up to our expectations or if we compare our relationships to those we see in TV movies.

Fr. Wilson said, “Christmas is the time of year that, culturally, is most idealized in terms of relationships, family, and community. We see the imagery on the TV movies, and the imagery always ends up in some idealized version of reconciliation or some perfection of family. And when we start examining our own lives and begin to compare them to this image that is set before us, none of our families, and none of our relationships are ever going to measure up to that. We live with human beings. Our relatives are human beings. Our communities are human beings. And Christmas doesn’t eliminate their humanity.”

So once we acknowledge the darkness and the source of our holiday blues, how can we walk toward the light? Fr. Wilson pointed out that there is a tendency when we are living in darkness to turn in on ourselves, but the light is found when we follow the example of Christ and give of ourselves.

“Check out ways, check out opportunities to give of ourselves in many different ways that the season often provides,” he suggested. “We have lots of opportunities for people to serve and to give. There’s something about self-donation that can always lift our spirits.”

Another way to battle the holiday blues is to focus on what you do have to be grateful for, rather than what is lacking in your life this Christmas.

“Gratitude is absolutely essential to the Christian life,” said Fr. Wilson. “It is absolutely essential to a solid and complete prayer life. And again, even in the points of darkness I think that is one of the ways that the devil just tries to overwhelm us in that darkness, and in a way blind us spiritually to all the things we have to be thankful for. So we might get lost in a cycle of not being grateful because we are caught in the darkness. But if we live in that spirit of gratitude, even in those moments of darkness, think of the things I can be thankful for.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Inner Life airs weekdays at noon Eastern/9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.