When the Holidays Make You Sad

Gretchen Rubin and Norman Rosenthal share five tips to lighten up the holiday blues.

Stressed young woman in front of Christmas tree
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Manage loneliness. Nothing dampers the holiday spirit like loneliness. If you anticipate spending the holidays solo, remember this: Be active, rather than passive. If you're dreading being alone for the holidays, and you can prevent the circumstances, do it. Yes, it might mean riding the bus overnight to Boston. It might mean some social awkwardness by accepting a neighbor's invitation to Christmas dinner. But hey, these experiences will almost certainly be memorable. And if you're bummed that no one invited you to a New Year's celebration, plan your own party.

Or embrace being alone for the holidays, Rubin says. Schedule a massage, volunteer, surrender to Netflix or even plan a solo vacation. Another option is to not mark the holidays at all, although Rubin suggests if you, do it mindfully, "instead of feeling buffeted by external expectations of what the holiday should be."

So if you're alone for the holidays, don't be a passive victim of circumstance – take control. "When you feel in control of your experience, that alone makes you feel better," Rubin says.

Commit to your health. "Whatever it takes, take care of yourself," Rosenthal says. "Remember the old airplane order: You put your oxygen mask on first before you can take care of everyone else." Continue eating healthfully. Don't skip meals, but do skip third serving of latkes. Pace yourself at the company party. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Find ways to relax.

[Read: How to Enjoy a Stress-Free Holiday.]

Vanquish stress. "Everyone should think, 'What can I do to make my stress level better?'" Rosenthal says. For some people, stress-busting may entail swearing off the mall and sticking to the Internet for holiday shopping. For others, it may be meditating, or perhaps sidestepping a political discussion with Uncle Bruce. For just about everyone, enough stress can take a toll on health.

The holidays, even at their jolliest, can be exhausting. And they're not any easier if you're blue. "If you feel energetic and your gas tank is full, you'll be better able to deal with an emotionally trying experience," Rubin says. "If you burn yourself out or run yourself down, you're going to feel much more easily overwhelmed."

Treat yourself. The most fun part about taking care of yourself? Treats. (It's the season of giving, right?) "I don't mean go drop $3,000 at Neiman Marcus," Rosenthal says. "But nurture yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally."

Take a spa day. Buy a gossip magazine you wouldn't typically purchase. Go watch that new movie none of your friends want to see. Rubin points out that treats are different than rewards, which you work for and earn. You get treats "just because," she says.

"They can recharge your battery. And those little things can sometimes help you deal with the bigger things."

[Read: How to Handle Extreme Stress.]