Coping with the “Holiday Blues”

1 Jan, 2010 || by

“Tis the season to be jolly”? “It’s the hap-happiest time of the year”? Well, not necessarily. At least not for all of us. According to the National Mental Health Association, as many as four out of ten people will experience a “mild depression” during and after the coming holiday season.

By “mild” depression, I think they mean the “blues,” and not the big, bad version of chronic, severe depression called “clinical” depression. The holiday blues are characterized by feelings of stress, irritability, and sadness. Other symptoms can include fatigue, sleep disturbances, increased eating or drinking, boredom, lack of motivation and difficulty concentrating on school or work.  Many factors can contribute to the holiday blues, including increased stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, an intolerance for being with family, memories of past holiday celebrations, over commercialization, changes in diet, and changes in normal routines.

I wanted to find out more about this interesting phenomenon called holiday blues, so I did a search of all the internet articles containing the phrase “holiday blues”. In the blink of an eye I discovered there are 34, 900 related articles. The phrase “holiday depression” only resulted in 6,290 hits, so there is certainly a greater consensus that the sad feelings many of us experience during the holidays is more like the “blues” than “depression.”

Now, knowing that there is such a thing as holiday blues, as well as its prevalence and symptoms, I thought the important thing to know is how to combat the holiday blues. While not being able to squeeze in reading all 34,900 articles on the subject, I was able to read and/or scan several dozen, hoping to find out what “they” (i.e., the infamous “they” as in “they say this…” or “they say that…”) say we can do about holiday blues. Overall, most of the articles summed up their “what to do about it” sections with many “Do’s and Don’ts”, the most important of which included the following:

  • Do get plenty of rest
  • Do exercise regularly
  • Do make a list of things to do
  • Do prioritize your list
  • Do make a budget and stick to it
  • Do look for sources of support
  • Do delegate where possible
  • Don’t dwell on the past
  • Don’t overindulge in food or drink
  • Don’t focus on what you don’t have
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations
  • Don’t wait until the last minute
  • Don’t over commit yourself

I feel that all of the above suggestions are useful and somewhat insightful, but they still didn’t seem to capture what I was looking for; namely a simple, straightforward way to avoid getting the holiday blues and the best way to make my holidays jolly and happy – like the songs say it should be. My belief, at least as it applies to me, is that if something isn’t simple, then it’s complicated. And if it’s complicated, the chances of me actually doing it are greatly reduced. That being said, here is my simple approach to making the most of your holidays:

1. Answer these questions:

~ I want this holiday season to be less ________. (Example: stressful, hectic, costly, etc.)

~ I want this holiday season to be more________. (Example: intimate, meaningful, etc.)

2. Take some time to think about what you can do to create the holiday season you described above.

Are your expectations realistic? Are they based on your childhood or on an unrealistic view of what the holidays should be? For example, if you want your holidays to be less hectic, start your planning and preparations earlier (i.e., shopping, sending cards, visiting, etc.). Decide what you are going to do during the holidays and what you’re not going to do…and stick to your plan. Likewise, if you want your holidays to feel more intimate and meaningful, think about what that means to you. Have you done things in the past that brought about a feeling of closeness? Can you do something like that again?

3. Share the approach with loved ones.

Ask your loved ones to answer the two questions above. Listen closely to their answers. Ask them to think about what changes can be made to make the holidays feel more like what they want. You’re likely to be surprised at how similar everyone’s answers are.

4. Put your plans into action.

Keep in mind the key words you used to fill in the two sentences above. When confronted with options, consider the options in light of your desires. For example, if one of the things you want is a less stressful holiday, consider options in terms of, “Will this make my holidays less stressful?”

5. Remain flexible.

Remember that things may not go exactly according to your plan. Each family member will have his or her own desires, and their desires may be somewhat different than yours. Strive, however, to work out the conflicts and then get back on track. Try to make your “wants” fit together. If issues develop, have another meeting to discuss what you’ve already agreed upon…to make this season more this way and less that way.

For some people, the holiday blues can continue well into the next year. This is often caused by leftover feelings of disappointment during the holiday season as well as from being physically exhausted. If you are concerned that you, a friend or relative may be suffering from more than just the holiday blues, you should express your concerns. If the symptoms persist, or if they involve feelings of despair, self-blame, guilt and unworthiness, or if there are accompanying thoughts of suicide, professional help should be sought as quickly as possible.

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