- Last Updated: 11.21.13
Not everyone shares in the celebration and joy associated with the holidays. Some people feel stressed and unhappy during the holidays. The feeling is called the "holiday blues," and it is a fairly common condition often hidden behind forced smiles. Excessive drinking and eating are ways some people react to the holiday blues. They may have difficulty sleeping and physical complaints. If you experience reactions like these during the holidays, you are not alone. Below are some things that cause the holiday blues and ways to cope with them.
What Causes the Holiday Blues?
- Fear of disappointing others. Many people are afraid of disappointing their loved ones during the holidays. They may spend more than they can afford, or feel that they have let someone down.
- Expecting gifts to improve relationships. Giving someone a nice present will not necessarily strengthen a friendship or romantic relationship. When your gifts don't produce the reactions you had hoped for, you may feel let down.
- Anniversary reminders. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become emotional as the anniversary approaches.
- Bad memories. For some families, the holidays are times of chaos and confusion. This is especially true in families where people have substance abuse problems or stressful ways of relating to each other. Even though things may be better now, it is sometimes difficult to forget when past holidays were ruined by substance abuse or family tension.
- It could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which results from fewer hours of sunlight as the days grow shorter during the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Strategies for Dealing with the Holiday Blues
The good news is that the holiday blues are usually temporary. Consider these ideas to help make this year's holidays more enjoyable and less stressful:
- Be realistic. Don't expect the holiday season to solve all problems. The forced cheerfulness of the holiday season cannot erase sadness or loneliness.
- Stay connected. You may want to withdraw and stay by yourself. Make an effort to spend time with friends. Write or call those you care about and recall good times you've shared in the past. Many churches and community centers offer activities to help people cope with the holiday blues.
- Drink less alcohol. Even though drinking alcohol gives you a temporary feeling of well-being, it is a depressant and cannot make anything better.
- Give yourself permission not to feel cheerful. Accept how you are feeling. If you have recently experienced a loss, you cannot expect yourself to put on a happy face. Tell others how you are feeling and what you need.
- Have a spending limit and stick to it. Look for holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations, window-shopping or attending school concerts.
- Give yourself special care. Schedule times to relax and pamper yourself. Take a warm bath or spend an evening with a good book.
- Set limits and priorities. Be realistic about what you will be able to accomplish. Prepare a to-do list to help you arrange your priorities. Find those things that are important to you and do them.
- Volunteer your time. If you are troubled because you won't be seeing your family, volunteer to work at a hospital or food bank. Volunteering can help raise your morale by turning your focus to people who are less fortunate than you are.
- Get some exercise. Exercise has a positive impact on depression because it boosts serotonin levels. Try to get some type of exercise at least twice each week.
After the Holidays
For some people, holiday blues continue into the new year. This is often caused by leftover feelings of disillusionment during the holiday season and being physically exhausted. The blues also happen for some people because the start of a new year is a time of reflection. These reflections commonly focus on problems of the past rather than the positive happenings of the year.
Is It More Than Just the Holiday Blues?
Clinical depression is more than just feeling sad for a few weeks. The symptoms generally include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, having less interest in daily activities, difficulty concentrating and a general feeling of hopelessness.
Clinical depression requires professional treatment. If you are concerned that a friend or relative may be suffering from more than just holiday blues, you should express your concerns. If the person expresses thoughts of worthlessness or suicide, it is important to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional.
- Anne Arundel County Department of Health Adolescent and Family Services, 410-222-6785
- Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency Crisis Warmline, 410-768-5522
- Anne Arundel County Network of Care: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- American Counseling Association: Are You Being Affected By "Holiday Depression"?
- American Psychological Association: Depression
- Children and Holiday Stress
- Additional Resources for Help (PDF)