Avoiding the holiday blues
ALPHONSO GIBBS JR., LCSW-C, LICSW | 12/27/2018, 1:09 p.m.
The six weeks encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s—collectively called “the holidays”—are for most a magically unique time of year, filled with holiday carols, reunions, displays of colorful lights, love and affection, often expressed through gift giving.
But for some, the holidays bring hurt. Caused by factors such as the weather, separation, death, stress, unrealistic expectations, hyper sentimentality, guilt or overspending and holiday depression—also called the “holiday blues”—can zap the merriment out of even the most wonderful time of the year.
Holiday depression affects 1 million people every year. Men and women, young and old, all fall victim to feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, guilt and fatigue during this emotionally charged season.
Men’s Health Network offers the following 10 suggestions to help you identify and ward off—or at least better cope with—potential sources of holiday depression.
- Acknowledge that you’re hurting. Others might expect certain attitudes and behaviors from you that you may not feel. The retail industry’s “holiday hype” presents an overly sentimental, nostalgic and even imaginary notion of the holidays (usually to try to sell you something). Sill, feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression don’t automatically vanish just because it’s the holidays. Acknowledge your pain, be open and honest with others, refuse to feel guilty and get help if necessary. It’s OK to laugh. Don’t be afraid. You won’t be struck by a bolt of lightning for laughing. Remember, a closed mouth won’t get fed.
- Have a plan to deal with your feelings. Try to surround yourself with people who care about and support you—family, friends or church members. Invest yourself in an exercise program (aerobic activities such as walking, running, cycling, etc., are recommended because of their mood-elevating ability). If necessary, see your doctor or therapist. And learn to say “no.” Others’ expectations are not a reason for your own mental health to suffer.
- Set realistic expectations. Keep your expectations realistic rather than perfectionistic. Prioritize and reduce self-imposed holiday preparations. Delegate responsibilities. Realistically plan your budget, spending and shopping. Do less and enjoy more. Obsessing over endless details is bound to change this long-awaited, once-a-year season from a time of exuberance to one of exhaustion. Make it a point to be honest with yourself, and if necessary and possible, limit the time and situations/people you want to be around. When you’ve had enough of either, make sure that you have a way to leave or step away.
- Take time for yourself. Why is it called holiday depression? Because, for most people, these feelings don’t occur at other times of the year. Remind yourself of what you enjoyed during the previous months, and then continue them during the holidays. Make yourself a priority. Instead of a “discount double-check,” give yourself an “emotional double-check.” Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Just don’t stay there too long. Getting enough rest, eating and drinking in moderation, exercising, and continuing other favorite activities can maintain normalcy, routine, control and predictability.
- Consider that your depression may actually be caused by this time of year. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, occurs because of reduced exposure to sunlight, which is just what happens during the holiday season when daylight hours are shorter. Check with your doctor to see if light therapy might be beneficial for you.
- Help others. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nursing homes, churches and scores of other organizations can always use volunteers, especially at critical times of the year. Additionally, you’ll benefit from the company of other people around you rather than being alone.