This is why the holidays can make us feel terrible — and what to do about it

For some of us, ’tis not the season to be jolly. Although the holidays can be a festive time of togetherness and family, for those of us who are lonely, the holidays can be an unhappy and isolating reminder of the community we want but do not have.

In one study, people reported feeling less satisfied with life during the holiday season. In fact, one review of holiday health studies found that there can be a negative “Christmas effect” on our minds, where there’s an uptick in loneliness, depression, and anxiety reported by patients around the Christmas holiday.

P.O. Peretti, one of the researchers cited in this review, concluded that Christmas depression in his 420 participants was tied to the “individual’s belief in the myth that everyone else is having a good time and engaged in loving family relationships — clearly a wish, but not necessarily a fact.”

This loneliness can have serious consequences for employees returning from holiday. One Harvard Business School analysis found that when we feel less socially connected, we are more likely to feel burnt out and exhausted at work.

How to combat holiday loneliness

To combat this social isolation, it’s important to first stop comparing your holiday experience to others. Don’t presume to think that your co-workers are having a joyous holiday even if their social media posts only show happy faces. If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one this holiday, don’t put pressure on yourself to be happy, grief therapists advise. That pressure will backfire and make you feel even more unhappy.

As clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior put it, “Give yourself permission to not have to be as jolly as everybody says you have to be,” she said. “Say to yourself, ‘Some days this season might not be great and that’s okay. I don’t have to force holiday spirit.’”

Once you embrace this mindset, you can start to actually enjoy your holiday on your terms. Try new experiences like watching a movie or volunteering to create a new routine and help you feel less stuck.

Recognize that loneliness makes us underestimate how much the people around us actually care about us. It tells us stories about ourselves that aren’t necessarily true. It makes us isolate ourselves further. Louisa Sylvia, associate director of psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital Bipolar Clinic and Research Program, recommends overcoming that isolating impulse by reaching out to your chosen people.

“Reach out to the people who are your support,” she told CBS News. “I think people tend to feel like they can’t do that because it’s the holiday season and they don’t want to burden friends, but this is exactly the time to reach out to people and lean on your support system because it is a difficult time.”