By Carol L. Veizer
The holidays are here, and though we are supposed to be “merry and bright,” many people are lonely, sad, irritable, anxious, and downright blue (thus the term, “holiday blues”). The over-commercialization of Christmas has a downside. While some experience the season as joyful, cheerful, magical and a time to gather with family and friends, others feel a sense of emptiness as they reflect on past failures, uncertain futures, financial concerns, and the absence of a support system. There are many factors that contribute to the ‘the blues,’ including environment, overindulging, overspending, isolation, and unrealistic expectations. The “holiday blues” can show up before and/or after the holidays but should be relatively short in duration. If the symptoms last for more than a few weeks, it is important to seek the help of a healthcare professional to rule out a more serious mental health condition such as depression.
What causes the Holiday Blues?
It is a darker time of year. As the days grow shorter in the fall, we have less exposure to the sun. Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Those with SAD might be more inclined to suffer as well from the “holiday blues.” The demands of shopping, overeating and excessive drinking have an impact on the mind and body. Both mood and sleep can be affected. Stress also builds as a result of financial pressure. When pressure from outside circumstances are compounded by psychological issues that come from expectations associated with family, gifts, and the hope for peace on earth, tension builds on the inside. As a result, symptoms may arise.
What are the symptoms?
The following symptoms are frequently associated with the holiday blues:
- Changes in sleep patterns (too much or too little sleep)
- Irritability or persistent headaches
- Chronic pain that does not respond to treatment
- Weight loss or gain
- Increased financial pressure
Factors that may place someone at a high risk for this condition or be a warning that there is a more serious condition:
- A death in the family
- Separation from loved ones
- Diagnosis of a serious health condition
- Serious financial circumstances such as unemployment or foreclosure
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loss of interest in things that usually bring pleasure
- Constantly feeling sad or “empty”
- Excessive guilt or worthlessness
- Thoughts of death or self-harm
There are warning signs that can alert you that your mind and body are reacting to increased stress. These may include mental confusion, a sense that your heart is pounding, nervous tics, dryness in your mouth, restlessness, and an urge to cry.
Coping with stress and depression during the holidays is challenging. Be careful about unrealistic expectations that may result in disappointments. Remember that things can go wrong even in the midst of a holiday. Keep things in perspective. Be present and stay mindful. Bring to each situation the energy you wish to receive. Here are some tips for lifting your spirits and making the best of the holidays.
Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress:
- Accept that emotions will vary
- Let the sadness in and then breathe it out
- Learn to say no to what you cannot or do not want to do
- Reach out
- Set aside differences
- Practice healthy habits
- Set boundaries
- Stick to a budget
- Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of others
- Reduce your toxins
- Avoid getting overwhelmed
- Allow support
- Create new traditions
- Seek professional help if you need it
There is no cure for the “holiday blues,” but it is possible to lift your spirits. The key seems to be in self-care. Though others may disappoint you and the magic of the season may elude you, be mindful not to get lost in the sadness. The Dalai Lama said, “Happiness is not something that is ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Finding the happy in the holidays may be difficult; however, if you reduce your expectations and give yourself what you need, you just might chase away some of the blues.
Carol L. Veizer, MA, ACS, NCC, LPC has over 28 years of experience as a mental health clinician. She specializes in integrative mental health. Carol is founder and director of the NJ Center for the Healing Arts in Red Bank, one of the country’s first integrative mental health centers. She is a licensed professional counselor, a boarded clinical supervisor and a national continuing education provider. For information visit www.njcha.org.