It’s that time of year again.
Multicolored lights twinkle across houses and front yards. Parents and squirming children form long lines to sit on a Santa look-alike’s lap. Red and green decorations adorn every store window. A constant sound of jingle bells and holiday tunes streams through the air.
The holiday season is just around the corner, and if you would rather deck the next guy you see in a red suit than deck the halls, you may be suffering from the holiday blues.
The Blues vs. Depression
The holiday blues, as the name implies, tend to be temporary and seasonal. They can affect both men and women, young and old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Holiday blues are more of a situational sadness, though physical symptoms may resemble those of clinical depression, says Michelle Pruett, MSW, of the National Mental Health Association in Alexandria, Va. These symptoms may include a general sense of sadness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal from activities you usually enjoy, and, in extreme cases, thoughts of suicide.
You also may feel hopeless, angry or overwhelmed, says Carol Goldberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Syosset, N.Y., and president of Getting Ahead Programs, which specializes in workshops for stress management and wellness.
Depression, on the other hand, lasts longer and may require treatment, Pruett says.
“If you see changes in your personality or if your sadness is affecting you physically for more than two weeks, then you might have a diagnosable depression,” Pruett said. At this point, you should seek the help of a mental health professional, she adds.
“It’s also quite possible that you feel bummed out just this holiday season. It really varies from person to person,” said Jane L. Cobb, LMSW-ACP, a therapist in Austin, Texas.
Loss and Loneliness
The holidays can dredge up unhappy memories, says Peter A. Wish, Ph.D., a psychologist in Sarasota, Fla. “For some people, the holidays have a negative association,” he said. “The season can trigger bad memories or feelings.”
You may be able to determine what’s causing these negative feelings, Cobb says. “It may be some people can predict their holiday blues, especially if they have experienced a loss around that time of year,” she said.
Those who have recently lost loved ones may be reminded that they aren’t with those people anymore, says Jim Bentley, Ph.D., a psychologist and hypnotherapist in Austin, Texas. “As memories of those people and the holidays resurface, depression can develop,” he said.
Cobb says the holidays also can make blue moods seem more intense because people think they are odd for not feeling as happy as everyone else.
“During the holidays, there can be an exaggerated sense of not belonging,” Cobb said. “The holidays can highlight and accentuate a sense of loneliness.”
Great Family Expectations
Expecting too much from the holidays can lead to the blues, too.
“People’s expectations of the holidays can be unrealistically high,” Goldberg said. “The contrast between people’s expectations and what actually happens can leave them feeling unfulfilled and let down.”
Multiple families, family reunions and houseguests may contribute to the tension and sadness during the holidays, Bentley says. “The holidays can remind people of how fragmented they are,” he said.
“During the holidays, rivalries can emerge and there can be conflicts with family members,” Goldberg said. “For instance, if you are divorced, you may be dealing with multiple families, ex-in-laws or not having your kids during the holidays.”
External and Internal Pressures
Commercialization and materialism may lead some people to feel conflicted, and, thus, blue, Bentley says.
“We live in a culture that splits what the holiday means,” he said. “There are both religious and secular meanings to the holidays. We may be divided between an outward feeling of obligation to buy things and an inward orientation of trying to figure out what life means.”
Also, as daylight-saving time ends and shorter days and colder weather set in, some people react negatively and associate their sadness with the holidays.
“Holiday depression can actually be seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is a diagnosable condition related to seasonal variations of light,” Pruett said.
Beat the Blues
Holiday blues don’t have to linger. Wish says there are ways to improve your outlook during the holidays.
One way to get rid of the blues is to change your expectations and not demand that your holidays resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, he says. He also recommends surrounding yourself with people who make you feel optimistic.
“Associate with people you enjoy being around,” he said.
Cobb adds that you should not be too hard on yourself about feeling blue during the holidays.
“We do ourselves a disservice when we try to force ourselves to feel something we don’t really feel or to do something we don’t want to,” she said. “It’s important to ask yourself, ‘Do I truly feel jolly or am I bah humbug?’ And if it’s bah humbug, then that’s OK.”
Whitten, M. (2006). Not in the Holiday Mood? It Might Be the Blues. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/not-in-the-holiday-mood-it-might-be-the-blues/000389
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.