The holiday season is the time of year that inspires feelings of warmth, joy, and belonging. For many people, it is a fun time of the year filled with social gatherings with family and friends, parties, and celebrations. However, for some people, this time of year can evoke feelings of loneliness, depression, stress, and anxiety—holiday blues.
While the data is limited, there is some evidence about the causes and consequences of the holiday blues. Research findings from surveys suggest people feel more stress, anxiety, and depression in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. The holiday blues are a real condition and it effects everyone differently.
Sadness is a truly personal feeling. What makes one person feel sad may not affect another person. Typical sources of holiday sadness include:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Financial stress
- The absence of one’s family and friends
Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. People who do not view themselves as depressed may develop stress responses, such as:
- Excessive drinking
Others may experience post-holiday sadness after New Year’s Day. This can result from built-up expectations and disappointments from the previous year, coupled with stress and fatigue. Additionally, people experience financial stress due to holiday spending and/or internal pressures to make purchases to avoid feelings.
Tips for Coping with Holiday Blues:
- Set realistic expectations for the holiday season.
- Make realistic goals for yourself.
- Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
- Make a list and prioritize the important activities. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
- Do not put all your energy into just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve). The holiday cheer can be spread from one-holiday event to the next.
- Live and enjoy the present. Be present in the moment and don’t worry about things you cannot control.
- Look to the future with optimism.
- Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the good old days of the past.
- If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others.
- Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, and watching the winter weather.
- Limit your drinking, since excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.
- Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way and create new traditions.
- Spend time with supportive and caring people.
- Reach out and make new friends.
- Make time to contact a long-lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
- Make time for yourself!
- Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks—don’t try to do it all!
- Keep track of your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over. Extra bills with a little budget to pay them can lead to further stress and depression.
- Practice gratitude. Be thankful for God’s blessings and grateful for the little things.
There is a difference between the holiday blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Major Depressive Disorder.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
- Major Depressive Disorder which lasts longer can interfere with activities of daily living. It is characterized by intense sadness — including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless and it can last for many days or weeks. Other symptoms include feeling tiredness or a lack of energy; difficulty focusing, remember details or making decisions; changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little); loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities; an increase or decrease in appetite, weight loss or weight gain; and thoughts of death or suicide.
When to Seek Help
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days or weeks at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, seek professional help. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol or substances for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
If the holiday season passes and you are still feeling depressed or anxious, it’s important to consult with a medical doctor or mental health professional.
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