According to the classic song “White Christmas,” your days should be merry and bright at this time of year. But if you are feeling anxious or depressed instead, you are not alone—64% of Americans experience the “holiday blues,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Holiday blues is a term that has become more commonly used in recent years to refer to a short-term, seasonal mental condition marked by sadness, depression, worry, and negative thoughts. The mental toll the holiday blues can take also has physical repercussions, such as insomnia, headaches, and weight gain. What’s even worse is the isolation you may feel during a season that is supposed to be full of good cheer—it can be difficult to be around other people who are reveling in the happiness of the holidays when you are in a funk.
It’s important to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally all year long, but that’s especially true now if you have been prone to the holiday blues in the past. Learn more about the common triggers behind this seasonal sadness—and what you can do to chase the blues away.
The loss of a loved one can hit particularly hard at this time of year. The presence of a beloved grandparent or cherished friend will be deeply missed, especially if you shared holiday traditions with that person.
Solution: Honor your lost loved one
Acknowledging your loss pays respect to your loved one and can be a healthy way to process your grief. It can be something simple, such as lighting a candle for them or making a donation to their favorite charity in their honor. It’s also important to recognize that grieving can eventually lead to healing, so don’t suppress any sorrow you may be feeling. If you need to, talk with someone about your feelings, whether it is a counselor or someone close to you.
Trigger: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
This kind of depressive episode usually recurs during certain times of the year and affects an estimated 10 million Americans. It’s often tied to lack of daylight in winter hours. Symptoms can include feelings of anxiety and irritability, lack of energy, and difficulty in social situations.
Solution: See a physician
Your doctor may decide to do a physical exam and run some tests to help diagnose SAD. A physician can also help determine a personalized course of treatment, which can include light therapy, medication, relaxation techniques, or counseling.
You may be resentful of your current circumstances, or perhaps you’ve had a falling out with someone you were close to. You may be feeling anger that is bleeding into all areas of your life. If you are holding onto this anger, it can be depressing and prevent you from seeing the good things in your life.
Solution: Talk through it
It can be extremely helpful to work through your issues with a therapist, who can also give you anger management tools. If there are certain situations that are still greatly upsetting to you—say, your relationship with a family member—and can’t be repaired at this time, work with your therapist to set healthy boundaries, such as limiting time spent with family at holiday get-togethers.
Trigger: Unmet expectations
If you’re used to cozy family gatherings but this is your first holiday post-divorce, your celebrations will look very different than they used to. You may also be putting undue pressure on yourself to feel “up” and “peppy” for the holidays when inside you feel anything but glad. When your vision of happy holidays doesn’t match up to reality, it can lead to the holiday blues.
Solution: Be realistic—and positive
Nothing is perfect, so let go of any unrealistic idea you have of how your holiday season should look. Create new traditions that fit your circumstances. If you used to go on a big vacation during the holidays but can no longer afford it, for instance, then take a day trip (and a thermos of hot chocolate) and visit the most lavish display of holiday lights in the area. If you find your thoughts are negative and self-critical, work with a counselor on cognitive behavior therapy tools you can use to turn the negative to the positive. You can also focus on all the blessings you do have—gratitude can help ease depression and breed happiness, among other health benefits.
You live far from family or feel like you don’t have many close friends, and that lonely feeling leads to the holiday blues. If you’re not careful, it can lead to isolation as well, making your feelings of sadness and depression even more intense.
Solution: Volunteer to help someone in need
When it comes to your time, it truly is better to give than to receive. Volunteering for an organization or cause close to your heart is meaningful at any time of the year, but opportunities to help at the holidays are always plentiful. Go out and donate your time because volunteering is a proven mood booster—you have the satisfaction of doing good, and you get to meet and connect with other people who have similar interests as you.
Parties, shopping for gifts, more parties, holiday dinners—add all these events to your normal obligations of daily life, and you’re prime for feeling stressed and overwhelmed. That can rob you of your joy and leave you feeling down. Plus, when you are stressed, you may tend to sleep less, feel fatigued, and eat more than you should—and that won’t make you feel better.
Solution: Make time in your schedule for you
Take a look at all your events on the calendar and ask yourself which ones are non-negotiable (your child’s school holiday pageant) and which ones you can skip (the neighborhood tree-trimming party). Use that free time wisely—get enough sleep and plenty of exercise so you can have energy for the events you do decide to attend. Also, make time to cook meals at home—‘tis the season to overindulge at parties so practice moderation and a healthy diet whenever possible.
Many of these solutions can be used whenever you are feeling depressed or anxious, not just during the holiday blues. Relaxation tools, eating well and exercising, psychotherapy sessions, and more can all be the basis for forming healthy habits with physical, mental, and emotional benefits. The key—with the holiday blues or any other depressive episode—is recognizing when a short-term problem has become something more serious. A mood disorder is considered depression if it occurs every day for more than two weeks.
If you are mired in depression, it’s crucial to reach out and get help. Talk to a trusted friend or your counselor, or go to a group support meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous if your depression is co-occurring with an addiction. If you need help and don’t know where to turn, especially if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call 211. This free and confidential hotline can help you during a crisis by offering resources and life-saving support.
If you have a case of the holiday blues that’s being exacerbated by a substance use disorder, it’s important to get highly qualified, experienced help in a rehabilitation treatment program. Casa Palmera can offer you the help you need to overcome addiction and move towards sobriety, so that you can have the hope of many happy holidays to come.