I thought I’d write a few words about the holidays and the blues, because this is the time of the year people commonly experience feelings of depression, sadness, and loss when many others are enjoying and celebrating the holidays.
Holiday depression is common and perhaps up to 10% of the population suffers from it to some degree or another. It is usually related to the holiday season because it brings back memories of a happier time in our lives. We may remember spending past holidays with a loved one who is no longer with us. Or we may get depressed by seeing so many others who have someone special in their lives — whether it be their family, close friends, or a significant other — to share the season with. Or it may be a combination of these things and others, such as dealing with an ongoing mental disorder.
Whatever the reason for suffering the holiday blues, there are some things you can do to try and ward them off, or at least minimize their impact in your life. The holidays are first and foremost a time of spirituality and a recognition of special religious events. Often this may be a good time to renew your spiritual beliefs and spend more time in contemplation of religion and spirituality. If you haven’t been to church or synagogue in years, for instance, now may be a good time to think about going again. I don’t think spirituality alone has all the answers to any of the world’s problems or people’s personal problems. But it can be an important aspect to understanding your life, your motivations, and your relationships with others.
Beyond spirituality, you can consider turning to those activities and hobbies which have often helped you in the past. This may mean volunteering more time at a local hospital or nursing home. Or devoting more time to writing, sewing, woodworking, fixing up things around the house, going to the library, reading, or any of a number of other activities. The point here is to try and keep your mind focused on those things which bring you pleasure and which you enjoy doing. This is certainly no “cure-all,” but it can be a helpful thing to try and do more of. If public places remind you of sad feelings or memories, you may just want to avoid them as much as possible this holiday season.
Many times a person experiences these sad feelings and memories as a natural part of the loss or grieving process. Sometimes this process can be unresolved, and therefore you can become more upset by triggering events or times of the year. Like the holidays. This may be a sign that you need to find acceptance of the loss, which is the final step in the grieving process. This can often be done on your own, and might be helped along by a book on grief.
Besides keeping busy and accepting loss, there are other things a person can do to keep away from the holiday blues. Hanging out with friends or family members which don’t have sad or negative emotions attached to them may be helpful. If not in the real world, then you may also consider spending more time online in a support group or chat area which is to your liking. Spending more time with friends can also keep your mind off of your depression and negative emotions. Some people avoid doing this, though, for fear of bringing the group of friends down with their mood. This is unlikely to happen in most groups and more likely than not, they will bring your mood up by the togetherness.
Obviously if you are suffering from a mental disorder which is worsened by the stress or additional emotions brought about by the holidays, you should look into increasing your coping skills. This can be done on your own, or you can ask your therapist to talk more about these and find ones which work best for you. The key here is to let your therapist know what you need to work on at this time of the year, and then proceed to work on it. If you’re not currently in psychotherapy and your problems are beginning to pile up on you, you may want to seriously consider participating in psychotherapy to help you at this time of the year.
Eating right and exercising is always an important part of living, and the holidays are no different. While it’s fine to stuff ourselves with turkey and ham during Thanksgiving and the December holidays, we should also be careful not to overdo it. It’s very easy to do so and it can contribute to a poor self-image and lowered self-esteem. Exercising regularly helps a person feel good about themselves as well as giving your body a helpful workout. We tend to isolate ourselves and close ourselves up in our homes and apartments during the winter months because of the weather. This isolation can easily lead to bodily feelings of laziness, sluggishness, and difficulty concentrating. Some of these are actually symptoms of depression as well. So exercise and eating right (most of the time!) are important.
There is no quick cure here, or easy method you can use to ward off holiday blues which is guaranteed. However, I hope that some of these things may be helpful to you during this stressful and possibly upsetting time of the year. Good luck trying them out and I hope you make it through okay. Take care this holiday season & best wishes from all of the people here at Psych Central.
This article was originally published in 1996.