Overcoming the Holiday Blues

“It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!” But while many people, especially children, are beginning to feel the Christmas cheer, many others are starting to feel a little down, or even the churning of dread on the inside. The holiday blues seem especially bad at this time of year in the Northern hemisphere. So to help us all find ways to understand and to manage these feelings, here are therapist Teyhou Smyth’s thoughts on overcoming the holiday blues. If you are an ultimate Christmas fan, they may even help you empathise with, and even be of help to, those struggling this season!

The holiday season is loaded with expectation, anticipation and the false idea that people should be cheerful.

Romanticized holiday movies, media advertising and non-stop holiday music set us up to feel as though we are traitors if we aren’t joyful.

What Are the Leading Causes of Holiday Stress

There are countless reasons people can feel stressed during the holiday season, but there are some common culprits that many people experience.

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of money
  • Commercialism/hype
  • Pressures of gifting
  • Family gatherings
  • Staying on diets
  • Increasing credit card debt
  • Travel
  • Children

The arrival of the holiday season doesn’t make the emotional struggles of everyday life go away, in fact, it often makes them seem worse.

Why Do We Experience Holiday Blues

Holidays can bring on feelings of sadness and depression, as well as anxiety for a variety of reasons.

Loneliness and lack of social connection
can be exacerbated by holiday celebrations, where there is a heavy focus on relationships and gatherings.

Pressures to participate in workplace celebrations
can worsen depression and anxiety, which can feel isolating from those who are excited about the festivities.

Financial issues
can cause guilt and depression regarding the limits on gift-giving.

Negative holiday experiences in the past,
particularly for those who have experienced trauma, can result in dread of the holiday season.

Grieving during the holidays
can be particularly difficult as one remembers past holidays when loved ones were present.

How Can You Manage the Holidays?

When struggling with the holiday blues, there are a variety of approaches that may help, depending on one’s personality and preferences.

There is no “right or wrong” way to cope with the holiday season but being proactive and choosing healthy options to manage feelings can offer the best results.

  • Allow and accept the feelings:

When we try to disregard or shove away feelings, they tend to show up in a different format and wreak havoc. If you are struggling with the holiday blues, accept that this is your reality and give yourself permission to feel this way.

  • Identify the “why”:

Sometimes it doesn’t matter why we feel a certain way, but with the holiday blues, it can be helpful to figure it out. Identifying the underlying cause can help guide the way you deal with it.

  • Commit to the actions that will help:

Once you identify some of the root causes of your holiday blues, it can inform the way you manage it.

For example, if you are fed up with the commercial aspects of the holiday, consider planning a get together in which you ask guests to bring a handmade gift to swap instead of purchased gifts.

If you are feeling lonely during the holidays, sign up to volunteer at a food cupboard or offer to visit elderly living facilities with holiday cards.

Reinforcing the opposite feeling is often a healthy way to prove to oneself that we have more power over the way we feel then we give ourselves credit for.

  • Try something new:

Holidays are so steeped in tradition, and that can be a blessing and a curse for people managing the blues.

Make your own holiday tradition, even if it has nothing to do with the holidays at all. Take yourself to a spa, have a massage, invite a friend to attend a comedy show near the holidays.

It might even be fun to designate yourself as a pay-it-forward elf in random situations such as paying for someone’s coffee in the line behind you at a drive through or leaving small treasures in people’s mailboxes at work.

If the holiday blues have paid you a visit, try to remember that this is a brief period of time during the course of the year; soon the hubbub will pass, and life will resume as usual.

Treat yourself with kindness; go for walks to improve your dopamine levels, eat healthy foods to boost your nutritional intake, and use healthy mindfulness practices such as meditation, prayer or deep breathing to stay grounded.

Greenburg, Anna; Berktold, Jennifer. “Holiday Stress.” Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research. Apa.org, December 12, 2006. Accessed November 9, 2019. Mayo Clinic. “Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping.” September 16, 2017. Accessed November 9, 2019.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com ~ some content may have been modified for the UK context.]

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