Author: Karin Schlanger and Esther Krohner

Permission to Feel Sadness During The Holidays: A Brief Therapy Center Perspective Regarding the Holiday Season.

(And an Invitation to a Complimentary Workshop on This Topic)

By: Karin Schlanger and Esther Krohner

At the Brief Therapy Center, we’ve always maintained that the Holiday Season isn’t for everyone. For some, the holidays may carry with it a dark side that often goes unmentioned. This can make it tougher for those who already feel ‘left out’ and pressured to feel expected joy. We would like to encourage giving the gift of permission to be human, embracing all the feelings that come with it.

The holiday season is often heralded as a time of joy, warmth, and togetherness. However, for a significant number of people, this time of year can evoke feelings of sadness, loneliness, and even depression. While festive lights and cheerful music create a celebratory atmosphere for many, the holidays can be a challenging and sad time for various reasons. We’d like to touch upon a few of them, and we’d love to hear from you as well.

Factors That Contribute to Feelings of Sadness, Loneliness, and Potential Regret During the Holidays:

Grief and Loss: For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can intensify feelings of grief. The season serves as a poignant reminder of cherished memories spent with those who are no longer present. Coping with the absence of a loved one during a time traditionally associated with family can be emotionally overwhelming. 

A conversation with a client:

Client:“How long is this supposed to last?” 

Brief Therapy Center: “That is a question that only you will answer… in time. When you find out, please let me know!”

At the Brief Therapy Center, we believe that each situation is unique. Hence, the solution- focused response, encouraging the client to take as much time as needed to process the situation. 

What can you do? There is no predetermined duration, but the common expectation, especially for those around the person suffering, is that the grief will dissipate quickly. 

Our message at the Problem-Solving Brief Therapy Center is to take as much time as you need.

Social Isolation: It is one of the primary contributors to the holiday blues. Much like grief and loss, the season emphasizes gatherings, parties, and family reunions, and not everyone possesses a robust social support system. Individuals estranged from their families may grapple with feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

In the U.S., where these ties often relate to work, someone who has recently lost their job may also experience a void on the social front. For individuals and families who have had to migrate—whether forcibly or willingly—this season finds them without their usual roots. Customs are unfamiliar, and the weather is not as expected, to name just a few challenges. 

What can you do to help? Be mindful of those around you and offer a listening ear.

Why Individuals Get Stressed About Socializing During This Season:

Pressure to be Merry: This is a cultural emphasis that we want to emphasize. There is a social expectation for everyone to be cheery and positive, which can alienate those not in a celebratory mood. The pressure to be festive and happy may compel individuals to mask their true emotions, resulting in a sense of isolation and disconnection from others. We have certainly observed this in our practices at the Problem-Solving Brief Therapy Center.

What can you do to help? Be supportive by listening and allowing others to be themselves.  If you find yourself in this category, schedule a time to discuss what you anticipate will happen with someone who can offer support. You don’t need everyone to share in your sadness, but having a couple of people who will allow you to be yourself can make a significant difference.

How People Get More Stressed About Money During the Holidays:

Unrealistic Expectations: Society often perpetuates idealized images of the holidays through media, advertising, and cultural narratives. These images create unrealistic expectations, and individuals may feel pressure to live up to a standard that is often unattainable, both emotionally and financially. 

The dissonance between these expectations and reality can lead to disappointment and a sense of failure. Keeping up with the Jones’, especially in affluent communities is almost impossible.

With Problem-Solving Brief Therapy,  we ask: 

“Do you really want to play the game?”

“What are you getting sucked into?” 

What can you do to help? Take a moment to assess the world around you and determine for yourself and your close ones what you want to do, say, how you want to act, and where you want to invest your energy. Instead of succumbing to the growing pressure to meet demands, take a moment to reflect a little!

Comparisons and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): This represents a new layer added by the advent of Social Media, which we cannot ignore. Social media amplifies the visibility of holiday celebrations, gifts, and gatherings, fostering a sense of competition and comparison. There may be a sense of inadequacy or exclusion, especially among teenagers and young adults who are prone to Instagram, Tik Tok, and glued to their screens in general, when comparing their own holiday experiences to the seemingly perfect and joyous celebrations portrayed online. 

What can you do to help? Keep communication lines open, up and down. Be aware of what everyone is ‘being fed’ on their electronic devices. Invest in perspective taking and the big picture both in your own self-talk and with loved ones when envy or jealousy pops up.

Financial Stress: Pressure to buy gifts, host elaborate dinners, and for some, even decorate their homes can lead to a huge expense, adding to financial stress. For those already facing economic uncertainty, the holidays will exacerbate stress and anxiety. Gift giving/receiving can contribute to feeling inadequate and guilty for those who are unable to participate in the consumerist aspect of the holidays. 

What can you do to help? Our words from the Brief Therapy Center are to keep it simple and real. We are only human!

We are putting our words into action. We will be hosting a workshop entitled “How to Deal with the Holiday Blues,” where we will be discussing these points and how to allow folks who are sad to just be sad and what that looks like for therapists (and as humans with our own holiday associations). 

Here, at the Brief Therapy Center, we hope that by recognizing and addressing these challenges, we can work towards creating a more supportive and compassionate holiday atmosphere for everyone. 

Join us on Eventbrite on December 8th for a complimentary training workshop and let us know what your clients are bringing up!

Karin Schlanger

Karin Schlanger was the Director of the Brief Therapy Center in MRI since 2008 until the sale of the building in 2019. She continues to be the director of the BTC currently. She has worked as a psychologist, supervisor in the Brief Therapy Model and professor at several universities international...

Esther Krohner

Master en Psic.
I have 14 years of experience working in mental health settings. I am and LMFT and RYT. I have been training and practicing  family therapy with Karin Schlanger for 5 years at the Mental Research Institute. I help couples, families, kids and teens  to make the changes they want to. When faced wit...

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