It’s Okay To Be Sad At Christmas

The holidays are idealized as a happy, peaceful time of year. But it's okay if it doesn't feel that way, around the holidays or anytime.

Photo: Getty Images

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The title of this article is a metaphor. Replace “Christmas” with “Holidays” or “Wedding Days” if you want. Heck, replace it with “random Tuesday in January” if you’re a bit late catching up on your hot Trail Runner magazine content. The message is simple: emotions are not math equations. You’re enough right where you are, even if it’s not right where you think you should be.

If you’re still here, cut yourself off a thick slice of slack. Whatever you’re bringing into this moment, there is only one guarantee. Your life is complicated.

Basically the title is all I have to say. You have permission to go back to doing Christmas Eve things, like putting out Santa’s cookies and subsequently eating all of Santa’s cookies because we all know it’s key to avoid low-energy availability.

If you’re still here, cut yourself off a thick slice of slack. Whatever you’re bringing into this moment, there is only one guarantee. Your life is complicated.

A Peek through the Keyhole

This article is published by a running coach for that reason. Coaching has let me have a little peek through the keyhole into people’s lives. “The house is so beautiful,” I’ll hear people say, looking at a person’s life from the outside. “It’s so playful and fun! I wish I could have that house!”

Meanwhile, I am squinting inside and seeing a bunch of chimpanzees screaming and going Jackson Pollack on the walls with their feces. Our inner worlds can be weird, messy, gross and beautiful all at once.

Coaching showed me that it’s not just complicated in my own head. Christmas is a great example of that complication in action. Michael Bublé tells me over and over that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Parties for hosting! Marshmallows for toasting! It’s the hap-happiest season of all! Well … and I can’t say this enough … screw Michael Bublé.**

Emotions Are Complicated

It’s also a season with high rates of depressive episodes. Sometimes that’s related to the season itself and the darkness-related seasonal affective disorder that comes with it. Sometimes it’s due to the emotional darkness dredged up by the ghosts of Christmases past. It can be connected to one specific thing or everything or nothing at all. Here’s the only universal thing—sadness doesn’t have to have a logical, mathematical reason to be 100-percent real. Emotions are really freaking complicated.

Brain chemistry doesn’t care about a calendar. Memories don’t become rose-colored just because you’re under mistletoe. Those things might make you happy, sure. But they might also make you profoundly sad. And that’s OK too.

Tap Into Your Awesomeness

This holiday season, turn toward whatever emotion you are feeling and give it a big hug. If you’re happy, OH, HECK, YEAH. Practice gratitude for every little thing you can. If you’re sad, you don’t have to feel guilty about that emotion. Instead, lean into it.

Whatever feelings you have right now, they are a part of the whole, amazing you. You’re this collection of quarks and electrons that can sing Christmas carols and cry in the shower and do all of these other unbelievable things. That’s pretty awesome. You’re pretty awesome.

Running is partially about tapping into that awesomeness of our physical and emotional existence, so definitely run or do other activities that bring you meaning. But running is not everything. Talk to therapists and mental health professionals for help. Keep talking. Talk to friends, family and golden retrievers in Christmas sweaters too.

And most of all, talk to whatever emotion you might be feeling.

“Hey, sadness/anxiety/depression,” you might say. “I love you.”

“Because I love me.”


**I now realize that Michael Bublé did not record “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” on his Christmas album. Still, the point stands. Screw Michael Bublé.

Happy Holidays!

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.

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