Young woman outside with a mask on with Christmas lights in the background. She is beating the holiday blues by getting out while social distancing.

Are the holiday blues visiting you as the season gets into full swing? Or, is the stress caused by the idea of a less-than-perfect holiday season upsetting you? If so, those feelings are understandable this year, especially given the pandemic. Besides feeling sad and disappointed, you may be worried, anxious or angry.

One possible way to better handle your pandemic holiday disappointment could be to manage your holiday expectations better.

Let’s face it, for many of us, our holiday plans won’t happen as we hoped. We experienced time with family and friends during past holiday seasons, but that will be difficult to impossible this year (At least celebrating in person). And that can feel like a significant letdown.

In her “Psychology Today” article entitled Finding Joy Through the Holiday Season, Sandra M. Chafouleas, Ph.D. shares some timely advice:

Despite its challenges, this year might help us let go of expectations about what makes for the perfect holiday. Adapting familiar traditions for unfamiliar times can help us put in place the rituals that truly bring feelings of joy.”

In light of Chafouleas’ advice, how can we manage our expectations this holiday season and successfully handle COVID disappointment? Here are some ideas.

Let Go of the Cultural Pressure of Perfection

There are seemingly endless concerns to become frazzled about during the holidays. The potential for Christmas stress or holiday stress is real. This is especially true when the temptation arises to idealize the season in an unhealthy way.

It could be the frustration over not having the ‘perfect’ meal, a tidy enough house, or your gift-buying plans mapped out as early as you hoped. Endless other concerns may nag you besides.

Many of these pressures are unfair ones placed on us by society. Real life doesn’t happen like a utopian holiday magazine photo. Maybe you know people who seem to have better holiday experiences than you shared on social media, for instance. The catch is you only see others at their best. Social media can hide a lot during the holiday season.

You may also feel pressured to buy into a materialistic focus of the holidays instead of an others’ centered one.

Either way, take time to decide if it’s worth all the hassle, stress or sadness to do what you feel is expected of you. Take time to step back and ask yourself, “Is this really worth it or necessary?” If it isn’t, don’t worry about it. Embrace authenticity instead.

Most are already feeling more burdened this year in some way than previous holidays. For that reason, guard yourself all the more against the comparison and cultural pressure game. It’ll only lead you to feel bad about yourself and circumstances—something no one needs an extra dose of this year.

Focus on the People Around You

Make people your priority this holiday season. The sad thing is that when you focus on peripheral distractions of the holidays, you can miss out on what matters most—the people around you! That’s far more important than having the externals ‘perfect.’ No one is flawless, including your friends and loved ones. Celebrate your time together despite those imperfections.

Your in-person gatherings will likely only consist of your immediate family because of COVID. But even so, focus on those around you and make them your priority. And of course, bringing in a little digital celebrating on Zoom or Facetime won’t hurt either.

Remember that your family and friends need your love. The ever-elusive pursuit of having the ‘ideal’ holiday is the surest way to become too distracted to show you care.

Make Sure a Mental Health Disorder Isn’t Interfering

If you take some realistic steps to manage your holiday blues or disappointment, it’s possible that you still may feel sad or anxious. It’s perplexing when you try everything you can think of to be happy during the holidays but you still feel mentally unhealthy. Feeling depressed on Christmas or sad on Christmas can feel even worse than other times of the year because it’s supposed to be a time of joy.

If this is how you’re feeling, you could be dealing with depression. Although ‘holiday depression’ isn’t a diagnosable mental health disorder, situational depression is. Difficult or situational life events can cause us to be depressed due to high and prolonged stress levels.

Many have experienced situational depression during the pandemic. Perhaps a lost job, increased relationship stressors, the death of a loved one or just the general instability our country felt this year triggered the depression. Anxiety disorders have been a primary concern too.

Mental illnesses like depression can be very challenging to overcome on your own. It’s like looking out of foggy glasses. You could have the nearest-to-perfect holiday circumstances and still feel sad because that’s what depression does. It makes your life look and feel worse than it is. If you or someone close to you has mental health concerns this holiday, be sure to reach out to a mental health professional in your region.

Struggling with Disappointment or the Holiday Blues? Consider Counseling

As the late fall and early winter holiday season play out, are holiday sadness or holiday anxiety weighing you down? Maybe you have concerns over depression, anxiety or social isolation. The pandemic has spawned numerous worries for Americans this holiday. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also a concern due to the diminished daylight that comes with this time of year.

If life has been challenging for you lately, Valencia Relationship Institute can assist you. We provide evidence-based counseling in Burbank/Toluca Lake, CA and counseling in Valencia, CA.

Whether you need individual counseling, relationship therapy, marriage counseling or family counseling, we are here for you. During the pandemic and in the future, we also offer virtual counseling (video counseling). Feel free to schedule an appointment with us.