Our American culture tends to create high expectations for us during the holidays through the use of mass media. For example, we see holiday cards with the picture perfect family that may not match up with the reality of our own family. The commercial aspect of the holidays, especially Christmas with the traditions of buying presents and hosting elaborate family dinners, can create added stress both financial and emotional. This factor and others can make the holidays a difficult time for some, a time of sadness, loneliness, increased stress, or anxiety. The holidays blues are feelings like these that often occur in and around the holiday season. Holiday blues can be intense, emotional and upsetting; but they also tend to be short-term and dissipate once the holidays are over and we return to our regular daily routines.
Some signs of the Holiday Blues are:
• frequent headaches
• sleeping too much or too little
• changes in appetite that cause either weight loss or weight gain
• agitation and anxiety
• excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
• diminished ability to think clearly or concentrate
• decreased interest in activities that you usually enjoy such as food, sex, work, friends, hobbies, sports, etc.
Some situations that may lead us to feel blue at the holidays:
• Fatigue, changes in diet and daily routine
• Increased stress and anxiety
• Unrealistic expectations
• Increased financial pressure
• Experiencing a death in the family or anniversary of that death
• Memories of past holiday celebrations with loved ones who have died
• Experiencing financial hardship or setbacks during the holidays
• Being separated from loved ones at the holidays because of work, military obligations, etc.
• Experiencing other losses during the year such as moving, health issues, serious illness
• Experiencing a change in lifestyle or roles by getting married, getting divorced, starting a job, or retiring
• Experiencing major changes in the family: a new baby, children leaving home, loss of income, etc.
• Also, people who tend to be depressed, stressed, or anxious can also become bluer at the holidays.
How to cope with the Holiday Blues
• Take it one hour at a time, one day at a time.
• Maintain a normal routine. Keep doing your normal daily activities.
• Get enough sleep or at least enough rest.
• Regular exercise, even walking, helps relieve stress, tension and improve moods.
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Limit high calorie foods and junk food.
• Avoid using alcohol, medications or other drugs to mask the pain.
• Do those activities, or be with the people that comfort, sustain, nourish and recharge you.
Other ways to manage the holiday blues:
• Determine your priorities and establish realistic goals for the holidays.
• Delegate some responsibilities to others.
• Take time for yourself.
• Minimize financial stressors by setting a budget and sticking to it.
• Enjoy free holiday activities.
• Think about giving a free gift from your heart such as your time or your presence.
• Be around supportive people.
• Create a new holiday tradition.
• Find a new place or a new way to celebrate the holidays.
• Volunteer and help someone else – I can’t overemphasize the importance of this. Doing something nice for others gets us out of focusing only on ourselves and our problems. We can start to feel grateful for what we have when we work with others who are less fortunate. There is also a genuine satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from giving ones time and energy to help others.
Individuals with a tendency towards depression are at greater risk for experiencing holiday blues. The holiday blues can also occasionally turn into clinical depression. Here are some of the early warning signs for depression:
• Feeling constantly sad or in an empty mood
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Insomnia – not being able to fall asleep
• A change in appetite with weight loss or weight gain
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
• Irritability or restlessness
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Feeling inappropriate guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
• Thoughts of death or suicide
Anyone with suicidal thoughts or ideation needs to seek immediate care with a physician, mental health provider, crisis line, or the nearest hospital emergency department.
R-E-S-T Here is a simple acronym that you can use to handle the holiday blues.
Reasonable expectations and goals. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
Get plenty of rest and relaxation.
Exercise, even walking daily. Eat and drink in moderation. Enjoy free activities.
Simplify to relieve stress. Set a budget for social obligations and gifts. Simple gifts can still bring happiness. Give your time to others – volunteer, donate to charity, call or visit a friend or family member who is homebound.
Take time to relax. Spend spend time with caring, supportive people.
As a therapist, I can recommend many of the suggestions mentioned in this article. Find what works for you or adapt one of the suggestions to fit your situation or lifestyle. In my own life, I have experiened depression and the holiday blues and have found my own coping skills and ways to minimize or eliminate feeling blue during the holidays. I like to attend free holiday community events such as concerts, parades, holiday lighting events. They get me out of myself and give me a sense of belonging to the larger community. The excitement created in a group activity or event is often very infectious and lifts my mood. Just think of the adrenaline rush people get by attending a professional sporting event. I also like to participate in local toy drives to collect and distribute toys to children and families in need. As I mentioned earlier, any activity that gets you out of yourself and interacting with others is a great way to overcome the holiday blues.
* As a music lover, one of my favorite antidotes for the holiday blues is listening to uplifting and inspiring music. There is so much traditional and popular music that can help to lift your mood. Pick some song artist or musical style you like and see if they have a Christmas album. You can download Christmas songs from the Internet for free or at low cost. Look for Christmas music collections at your local Goodwill or thrift store.
The holiday season, Christmas in particular, is a time when many religions celebrate their own special traditions. Whether you are religious, or spiritual, or otherwise, the holiday season can also be a time for expressing what it means to be fully human. It is an opportunity to express your love, your kindness, your generosity, your giving nature, and your connection with others – family, friends, community, and world. Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season filled with peace, joy, love, wonder, connection, and contentment.
Written by John Johnson