Written by Harry Livesay, LCSW
Division Head of Therapy Services
Lone Star Circle of Care
Once again the holidays are here—a time to spend with friends and family, sharing gifts and laughter — and for some, feeling blue or depressed. For some people, the holiday season can be a very difficult time of year. It can be a time of sadness and loneliness, a time of regret and reflecting about the past and/or time of anxiety and worry about the New Year.
There are many different reasons that people feel blue during the holidays. The holiday season can also be a time of feeling “overloaded” with cooking, shopping, cleaning, decorating, guests, overeating and drinking, family tensions and conflicts and having unrealistic expectations about the holidays themselves .
The holiday blues can be defined as a feeling of sadness, loneliness, depression, and even anxiety that often occurs in and around the holiday season. It can present itself with symptoms similar to depression, such as:
• An inability to sleep or sleeping too much
• Changes in appetite that cause either weight loss or gain
• Agitation and anxiety
• Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt or low self esteem
• Challenges with ability to think clearly or concentrate
• Decreased interest in activities that usually are enjoyable, such as: food, sex, work, friends, hobbies and entertainment.
However, if these feelings last more than two weeks, it could be a sign of something more serious and it’s important not to confuse the holiday blues with major depression.
There are a number of things you can do to help reduce stress, anxiety and reduce the holiday blues. These include:
• Setting limits and be honest about what you can do during the holiday season.
• Pacing yourself and get enough rest so that you won’t feel angry or irritable during the holidays
• Volunteering your time to help others. Taking the focus off of yourself and putting it on others can really make you feel better and give more meaning to your holidays
• Taking a break. If you find yourself getting stressed, take some time alone in a quiet place to relax and recharge.
• Accepting change as a part of life. Don’t expect the holidays to be just like they were when you were a child. Making new and positive holiday traditions can exciting and fun.
• Indulgence vs. overdoing it. It is easy to overindulge around the holidays, but overeating and drinking will only make you feel worse.
• Don’t try to do it all by yourself- get support. People often want to help and to be involved. Delegating tasks to friends and family can make the holidays more manageable.
• Plan ahead for family conflict and think ahead about possible coping strategies.
If you still find yourself feeling down or blue for a sustained period of time, get help. Don’t try to “tough it out”. Contact your doctor. Get some professional counseling. There are treatment options available that could make a significant difference in your mood and functioning this holiday season.
References: K. Ruder, Diabetes Forecast, 2006 Mayo Clinic, 2004 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544