Pre-Thanksgiving Plummet: Dreading The Holidays?

New England winters provide the backdrop for what the quintessential holiday season should look like: the colorful majesty of turning leaves, the beauty of the first snow, and crackling fires on chilly nights. Cue the pine trees with snow-dusted branches, apple-picking, and skating on ponds — and you’ve got the whole shebang.

It all seems so idyllic when you envision it, but for many it’s a challenging time of year. Think about it: When someone tells you to smile, it’s really the last thing you want to do. The holidays “tell” us to be joyful, but sometimes that’s the last thing we’re feeling. Even those who go through the motions — putting up the tree, cooking for multitudes — may be filled with a generalized dread that starts at the beginning of November. It’s what I call the Pre-Thanksgiving Plummet.

The Pre-Thanksgiving Plummet sneaks up on you. You’re still flying high on warm memories of summer, while enjoying the relief of cooler temps. Then, without warning, a heaviness takes root in your chest. The holidays are around the corner. You may feel overwhelmed — there’s so much to do! — or inexplicably sad. While others seem excited for the next couple of months, you’d rather pull up the covers and set your alarm for January 2nd.

Are you experiencing the Pre-Thanksgiving Plummet? Here are some of the reasons why, and what you can do about it:

1. Grief. Nothing spells holiday like family and friends. If you’ve lost someone close to you since last holiday season, enjoying this year’s may prove challenging.

What to do: Honor your sadness and your loved one. It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m just not ‘feeling’ the holidays this year. I really miss Mom…” Come up with ways to remember the person who’s passed. Light a candle for them or ask those at your table to share a positive memory of that person. Just because they’re gone, doesn’t mean you can’t include them.

2.  Alcohol. Sorry, folks. Alcohol is a depressant. Unfortunately, it tends to flow quite freely around the holidays. If you’re already feeling down, adding booze to the mix is not going to help.

What to do: If cutting out liquid cheer for the whole season feels unrealistic, decide instead to limit your intake. Choose the way you enjoy alcohol the most, and let that be your bye. Perhaps you like a nice red with dinner, or you can’t pass on Grandma’s eggnog. Choose one and stick to it. And don’t go to holiday events thirsty. Hydration is your friend.

3. Loneliness. Loads of family gathered around the tree? Huge crowd around your Thanksgiving table? For many, that’s just a fantasy. If you’re lonely this holiday season, you’re not alone on that front. Simply being around other people is not the answer. Sometimes we’re loneliest in a crowd. The only real cure for loneliness is connection.

What to do: Do good. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Deliver a meal to an infirm person. Hand out gifts to kids who otherwise wouldn’t get any. When we do good for others, we feel connected to them and something much bigger than ourselves. Bonus: You’ll be connecting to your best self as well.

4. Relationship woes. If your primary relationship isn’t good, nothing’s good. That’s a fact. And it’s especially true around the holidays. Not only is the season touted as the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also sold (by endless advertising) as the most romantic time of the year. If your relationship is suffering, so are you — and there’s nothing merry about that.

What to do: If your relationship is stormy and volatile, agree with your partner to put your differences on ice for a few weeks. You may not be smooching under the mistletoe, but at least you won’t be throwing daggers. If your relationship is quietly miserable, find ways to celebrate that don’t include your partner. Whatever the case, ask yourself how many more unhappy holidays you’re willing to spend with this person. 

5. Sun and Exercise. Lots of us get plenty of both in the summer months. But now daylight hours are waning. We wake up in the dark and spend our days indoors. As the weather grows frightful, we’re also not so eager to go for that early morning walk or jog.

What to do: If lack of daylight is getting to you, a therapy light box may help. If less exercise is making you sluggish, work in some time at the gym or take up that new winter sport you’ve always wanted to try. And keep reminding yourself: Summer’s coming.

6. Stop Doing the Thing. Whether it’s putting up outdoor lights, making Christmas cookies for your neighbors, or throwing the New Year’s Eve party everyone counts on — and you dread it with all of your being — give yourself the gift of not doing it. The world isn’t going to stop if you don’t bring homemade latkes into your office, or you don’t send handmade Christmas cards.

What to do: Stop. Just stop.

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