For many, the holidays represent a time of happiness, joy, peace on earth, and celebrating with family and loved ones. For others, what has been coined the “most wonderful time of the year” can actually bring about intense feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and grief, which we often think of as the holiday blues. If you are experiencing these feelings, realize that you are not alone.
The “holiday blues” can stem from a variety sources and experiences, including unrealistic expectations, financial stressors, loss, relationship issues like separation or divorce, and weather changes due to decreased sunlight and colder temperatures. Increased demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and entertaining house guests may also contribute to feelings of tension.
Below are some helpful tips for coping with the holiday blues. By implementing these coping strategies into your holiday routine, you can minimize feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany the holiday season. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would!
Modify your expectations. Countless movies, television commercials, and newspaper ads fill us with images of those perfect “Hallmark Christmas moments”—families exchanging gifts of love, children smiling and laughing, the snow falling gently outside and the fireplace aglow. Hollywood and the media, along with our own childhood memories and daydreams, tend to leave our minds clouded with fantasies of perfect, romantic, storybook moments—that can distort reality and bombard us with unrealistic expectations about the holidays. Seriously. When was the last time you roasted chestnuts with a loved one? Remember that the holidays don’t have to be “perfect” or “just like they were when you were a kid”. Real life isn’t Hollywood, and nobody has a perfect holiday or a perfect family.
Set boundaries. One of the biggest stressors of the holiday season can be taking on too much. You may not be able to attend every function, event, or get-together to which you have been invited. You won’t be able to work overtime each time your boss asks you to put in extra time or your co-workers ask you to cover for them. Others’ expectations can run high during the holidays, but your mental health shouldn’t have to suffer as a result. Learning to say “no” doesn’t make you mean-spirited; it’s just a way for you to set healthy boundaries that will protect you from unnecessary stress. Friends and loved ones will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. You still have an obligation to eat and drink responsibly; engaging in overindulgence (whether its alcohol, food, etc.) will only add to your feelings of stress, anxiety, and guilt. Enjoy a healthy snack before heading off to a holiday party so that you will be less likely to go overboard on the sweets. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water. Take a brisk walk or squeeze in a workout on holiday mornings or prior to functions where you’re expecting food and/or drinks to be served.
Finances: be mindful of what you spend. Between shopping for gifts, food, entertaining houseguests, and traveling, the holidays can put a significant strain on your budget—and your well-being. Set a clear budget before heading out to the stores. Know who you are buying for, how much you are willing to spend, and stick to your plan as best you can. It will make for a less stressful shopping experience and help protect against shopper’s guilt and anxiety that results from overspending. Peruse “homemade holiday websites” and consider making something from the heart, bake your colleagues or loved ones some cookies, or encourage your family to draw names out of a hat instead of purchasing individual gifts. Simple, heartfelt gifts can have a big impact—at little cost to you.
Start a new tradition. This is an especially important tip for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one or experiencing a break-up. The holidays can be a reminder of the way things “used to be”, and it can be helpful to consider creating new traditions as opposed to ruminating over old ones. Arrange an ugly sweater party with a group of close friends, set aside one night each week to watch a holiday movie or television special, such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “A Christmas Carol”, or bake cookies using a new and unique recipe, and then walk door to door delivering them to neighbors.
Help others. Research indicates that the act of giving can have a tremendous positive impact on how we feel about ourselves, and helping others is often a great way to protect against isolating behaviors and/or feelings of loneliness. And not only will helping others make you feel better, it will also uplift the spirits of the person(s) you are helping! To volunteer your time, contact your local United Way, or call local schools, shelters, churches, synagogues, or mosques and ask about volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.
The “holiday blues” tend to be short-lived, lasting only a few days to a few weeks surrounding the holiday season. If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness or depression for a sustained period of time (more than a couple weeks), seek professional help from your physician and/or a mental health care professional. Treatment options are available that could make a significant difference in your mood and functioning throughout the holidays and beyond.
Wishing you a safe, peaceful, and joyful holiday season,
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