It’s Okay If You’re Feeling Sad This Christmas


Well we finally made it to another Christmas. Did you get the gift you really wanted? Are you stuffing yourself silly with yummy holiday food? Are you surrounded by the people you love and who love you? Are you happy? 

You might answer yes to the first three questions and still be unsure about that last one. And some people might feel guilty about it. How can anybody still feel sad or upset when they have all or most of the ingredients for a (literal) happy holiday? 

If you’re still feeling blue inside despite all the things that ought to make you feel, well, not blue, you’re not alone. In fact, there’s actually a term for it: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, appropriately enough), which, according to Psychology Today, affects 10 million Americans every year.

There isn’t a whole lot of data available for the Philippines, but anecdotal evidence suggests that people here suffer from some version of it, too.

The popularly held belief that the holidays are supposed to be this joyous occasion no matter what might have something to do with it. I mean, the default greeting during this season is “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!,” which, itself, is a nice sentiment, but can cause unrealistic expectations, particularly for vulnerable people, or those already suffering from SAD.

Most people look forward to the Christmas season as a time of celebration with people who matter, of festivities with friends and family surrounded by good food and presents. It’s a nice picture in our heads, and while some people get all that, many don’t and the things that somehow don’t fall into place—those that ruin our ideas of what the holidays should be—cause stress, which ultimately lead to unhappiness and even depression.


For others, it’s something deeper, something innate and biological. Christmas might be tough on people who don’t like it to begin with, but for those who can’t control their emotions, whose feelings of anxiety, depression and hopelessness are so overpowering they can trigger bouts of self-harm, it’s doubly difficult because they have no choice in the matter.

And of course, social media hardly makes things better. Seeing all those Instagram and Facebook posts of your friends posing with their gifts, taking snapshots with their families while on a grand vacation somewhere, and posting those flatlays of their noche buena feast—all of it only serves to intensify those feelings of misery and being left out.

Wherever you fall in the holidays-are-hard spectrum, the thing to remember is that hardly anybody is ever really experiencing a perfect Christmas. You’ve heard it said that social media isn’t real—it’s the extremely filtered version of people’s lives. And that's especially true during the holidays. So be happy for people, but try not to let them influence how you live your own life. It doesn’t do anything for us to weigh our existence against other people’s Instagram posts.

If the source of your unhappiness is your friends or family, that might get a bit more complicated, but try to dig deep and remember why you see them in the first place. Identify the reasons for making them your “tribe” and if they really push your buttons, escape to your bedroom or the bathroom for a bit of “me” time so you can pull yourself together. Perhaps, in extreme cases, you can even cut the visit short, or make an early exit from the gathering. 

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve grappled with mild cases of depression in the past, and still experience anxiety episodes from time to time. One thing that helps me get through them is focusing on the things that I have in my life that I am grateful for. And although it sounds a little morbid and mean, the gratitude only intensifies when I realize how little many other people have.

The great thing about being more giving is that it provides you with perspective you would otherwise not be able to get. So maybe try volunteering at a soup kitchen or seeing how you can help out at an orphanage or old folks’ home. Donate time or resources and maybe see how it changes how you feel about things. The moment we stop to give more of ourselves to others is the moment we understand how privileged we truly are. It works both ways, too: try focusing on everything in your life that you don’t have, and you’ll soon realize that you’ll never, ever have enough.  

So yeah, it’s okay if you’re feeling a bit sad during the holidays. We won’t even try to convince you otherwise. But you know at least one good thing about this season if you’re just not feeling the Christmas spirit? Just like everything else, it, too, shall pass.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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