How To Avoid The Holiday Blues

As a therapist for ten years, you could say that I am an “expert” at noticing patterns of behavior in people. Now that we’re in the middle of the holiday trio (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day), it is not uncommon to hear my clients talk about something I refer to as, “The Holiday Blues”.  In fact, it is such a common phenomenon, it ought to have its own hashtag on Twitter!  If you know you get a bit depressed, cranky, and stressed around this time of year, this is the article for you.

What are the Holiday Blues? The signs and symptoms mimic a situational depressed mood: feelings of stress or panic, fatigue, changes in appetite, withdrawal from friends and family, feelings of sadness and loss, unexplained over-responsive anger, loneliness, and insomnia. With the depressed mood can be some mixed anxiety from the stress that may be present around holiday times.

Do holidays give you the blues?

Rx For The Holiday Blues. Too bad there isn’t a pill you can take to treat HB symptoms. But there are a few things you can do that will likely reduce the depressed feelings mixed with anxiety.

1. Schedule “down time”  for yourself. Do not pack your schedule too tightly. Let your mind rest instead of forcing it to dash around as you carry it here and there. My pick: do a some light yoga stretches, take a hot bath, listen to quiet music.

2. Prepare for family visits with some encouraging but realistic  self-talk. Lower your expectations, and avoid highly charged conversations where shameful and embarrassing situations may emerge. Aim for one meaningful moment per day with them, where you make a note to yourself to enjoy something about being together.

3. If the holidays mean eating large quantities of sugar and fat, plan accordingly so you don’t experience the associated mood swings. Increase your water intake, and include activities away from the restaurant and the kitchen. Taking a a walk after a meal can be a way to get a little movement in.

4. Watch your spending, and physically record your spending somewhere you can see to avoid credit card bill shock mid-January. Many people turn to retail therapy to feel good, or we simply lose track of the added expenses of gift giving and holiday partying. Create a budget, and do not give yourself excuses to break that budget in a way that will put needless stress on you during the following billing cycle.

5. Give yourself permission to acknowledge losses and change. The family may have lost or gained new members, or the holidays might remind you how time continues to march on regardless of your best efforts to remain still.  You might need time to grieve, cry, or laugh hysterically over those changes. Both laughter and tears can be therapeutic.

What I’m describing here is congruency of feeling and expression. Repressed emotions can emerge during highly stressful times when we feel the expectations of others. While it’s good to know exactly how you feel when these emotions emerge, they don’t always come up at a time it’s appropriate to share them with someone else. Find healthy ways to express those emotions: record them in a journal, share with a trusted friend, take a walk by yourself, scream in your car, or talk to a therapist.

6. The Holiday Blues can also be associated with the lack of sunlight if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. I’ve posted information about this in my article about Vitamin D and sunlight.  Vacation time in a sunny place, UV light exposure, or a special light box made to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder can help lift the winter blahs.

Note: if you’re having more than occasional thoughts about harming yourself or taking your life, put a plan in place to help you feel safe. Call a friend, talk to a crisis line counselor, or call your therapist. You do not have to face this alone.

This year, you don’t have to be out with the Holiday Blues. If you have suggestions for how you beat the Holiday Blues, please submit your comments here, or send them to imei.hsu@gmail.com and I’ll reprint them anonymously.

    Gifts We Love

    We are rounding into the end of the year, and no matter what culture or tribe, almost everyone celebrates with gift giving. As time marches on, I notice that the most precious thing I have to give is time. Is time precious to you as well?

    Starting November 1 – Dec. 31, 2010, Seattle Direct Counseling and Coaching wishes upon you the gift of time. Time to reflect. Time to grieve. Time to celebrate. Time to plan. Time to make a change and organize yourself. In order to help you take advantage of this gift, I’m  renewing my  $100 coaching package (see the coupon on Google places) from last year:

    Three 20-30 minute coaching sessions by phone, in person, or by Skype/Facetime/email  + One free 10 minute follow up phone call to help you stay on track.

    That’s nearly $400 worth of coaching for $100! The catch: you (or the person you’re buying this for) must buy the sessions before Dec. 31, 2011 and complete the coaching sessions before March 31, 2011. I put a time limit, so you won’t lose momentum between sessions. I know we all get busy, and I want to help you take advantage of time instead of wasting your most precious commodity.

    Hey, Groupons and Living Social can save you money on a pedicure or housecleaning, but with this deal, you’ll be doing something good for yourself that could last a lifetime. Click this link to download your coupon: Seattle Direct Counseling & Coaching coupon

      Depression Signs and Symptoms

      Most people know when they feel “the blues”. But do you know the difference between depression and the blues?

      photo placeholder. Original ink drawing by Imei Hsu.
      photo placeholder. Original ink drawing by Imei Hsu.

      “The Blues” are likely situational and temporary in nature. You notice almost immediately that there is a change in how you feel, and there is an explainable “trigger”, such as temporary stress related to a project at work you don’t like,  the death of a beloved pet, or dear friend has moved far away. Depression may be more subtle, longer in duration, and may include other confusing symptoms, such as anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that takes many people by surprise.

      According to helpguide.org, the most common symptoms of depression are:

      Continue reading “Depression Signs and Symptoms”