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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reprint them anonymously.