How to Deal with the Holiday Blues
The holidays can be a joyous time, but they can also be a stressful time. During my 17 years of clinical practice as a mental health provider, I have noticed that the holiday season brings an increase in people seeking help from a counselor. Initially, I was perplexed by the spike in office visits. I saw it as paradoxical, considering the holiday season has always been a joyful time for my family and I. But over the years, I have come to understand that there are many who have a different experience during the holidays. For some, the coming holiday will be the first since a relative passed away. For others, the coming holiday will be the first since the divorce, and the need to share time with the children with one’s former spouse. There are numerous reasons why some of us experience depression during the holidays.
According to Rosenthal (2005), one in five people suffer from some type of seasonal blues, and there are ways you can try to improve your mood and feel like yourself again. The worst thing you can do if you are feeling under the weather is to allow it to consume you and affect the moods of the ones you care for the most. Get up in the morning, take a shower, get dressed and talk to someone. Find an activity or a project to keep yourself busy. Listen to music, let the light in, and do some form of indoor exercise. Acknowledge that you are going through a difficult time, but hold fast to the belief that better days are around the corner. They almost always are.
Be sure to eat three meals a day, and try not to skip breakfast. Your body needs nourishment during times of stress or fatigue. Be sure to drink enough fluids, and do what you can to help yourself move beyond this troublesome phase. Remember that you are not alone, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Before long, the weather will change, and the sunlight will do wonders for your state of mind, your outlook on the future and the feeling that you are back to ‘normal’ again. That is not to say that all of your problems will go away, but you just may find yourself better able to handle them in a positive and productive way once the added burden of seasonal depression has lifted. Following is a list of holiday health and stress tips that may help to brighten your mood and assist in passing this time along as a more pleasant experience:
Be prepared. The ambush of emotions can attack at any time, therefore the wisest response is to prepare beforehand. Pinpoint a time that you believe may be particularly difficult such as Christmas morning. Then determine a plan beforehand.
Plan Ahead - Plan to do something that is fun, relaxing, and as stress free as possible with people you really care about. If the holidays are just too painful and the reminders are everywhere, consider a vacation that allows you to ‘escape’ the painful triggers.
Make a Schedule - Make a list of everything you need to do for the holidays and a target date to accomplish your goals. This will help you to feel more in control and reduce holiday stress. Delegate tasks appropriately.
Create New Holiday Traditions - While you may want to hold on to some of the past traditions, it's a good idea to create some new traditions with friends and family. (Consider an alternative day, time, place, etc.)
Be aware, humble, and courageous enough to ask for help from supportive family and friends - Rely on a healthy support system if you are feeling isolated, lonely or depressed. Tell your support circle what you need from them (companionship, understanding, compassion, listening, etc.)
Take care of yourself- Get the proper amount of sleep, exercise and eat healthy in order to maximize your ability to cope. Schedule time for rest and relaxation - Give yourself a break.
Take it one day at a time, one holiday at a time - It will get easier. It will get better. It will hurt less. Right now, just concentrate on one thing at a time.
Intentionally Socialize. Don't hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate, but force yourself to go out even if it's only for a short time.
Be festive . Accept as many party invitations as possible. Someone who is out partying has no time to brood or feel lonely. If you don't have a party to go to, throw your own party. Host a party where everyone brings a dish or drink. This idea keeps down the work for you and also gives you the opportunity to have a good time.
Set safe and healthy boundaries. Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren't. Don't let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.
Practice Empathy. People who have never suffered loss may not understand your sadness or sorrow during the holidays. In particular, if your loss isn't obvious, such as the death of a loved one, you may need to explain why you are struggling.
Be creative. Do something completely different this year. Visit a friend, take a cruise, go to the mountains or the beach, go skiing or hiking. Find someone else who may be struggling this year and brainstorm.
Serve Others. Think about bringing Christmas to the needy – there are plenty of them. Holiday volunteer opportunities are abundant this time of year. It’s in keeping with the spirit of the season, and it will not only keep you busy, but may help put into perspective your struggles in relation to others.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or stuck, get professional help. Therapy can provide a safe, supportive environment in which you can gain insight, learn problem solving skills and find solutions to dealing with the flood of emotions during the holiday season.
Rosenthal, N. (2005). Winter Blues: Third Edition. New York: Guilford Press.
Michael J. Maxwell, PhD, LPCS, NCC
Argosy University, Dallas