Not everyone delights in all the festivities and joy of the holiday season. People from all walks of life and in all sorts of situations feel depressed, sad or out of it during the holidays. If you have the holiday blues, the following tips may help lift your spirits.
- Relax. Take time out of your hectic holiday schedule to pamper yourself, says Peter A. Wish, Ph.D., a psychologist in Sarasota, Fla. “People need to remember to be nice to themselves. You should treat yourself to something you like and do things you like to do, even if it’s just going to the movies.”
Jane L. Cobb, LMSW-ACP, a therapist in Austin, Texas, recommends meditation, deep breathing or visualization to relax. Also, she says something as simple as curling up with a novel may comfort you.
- Plan and prioritize. Don’t plan more than you can accomplish comfortably, Mayo Clinic officials advise. Develop a calendar of specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other events.
“You’ve got to plan,” Wish said. “Don’t wait until the last minute or you’re going to feel overwhelmed.”
If you do feel overburdened, share responsibilities with family members or friends. Consider buying pre-made food items instead of baking everything yourself.
- Set realistic expectations. Holidays can be difficult for people, especially when reality doesn’t measure up to their expectations.
“People need to realize that the holidays are not going to be perfect,” said 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.
Also, don’t label the holiday season as a time to cure all past problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Budget. “For many people, the holidays are financially stressful,” Cobb said, “and that can cause the blues or depression.”
Know your spending limit and stick to it, CDC officials say. Enjoy holiday activities that are free, such as driving around to look at holiday decorations. Go window-shopping without buying anything, CDC officials recommend.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that giving less materialistic gifts, such as your time or an item you made yourself, may help your stress level, as well.
- Don’t force festivity. “Feeling down is valuable,” said Jim Bentley, Ph.D., a psychologist and hypnotherapist in Austin, Texas. “It lets you know that something in your life is not working. If you listen to your depression, it may help you make changes in your life. So, embracing the blues is a good thing.”
Cobb agrees. “Honor what you are feeling. Don’t force yourself to feel something you’re not,” she said.
But Cobb also says if you are straddling the fence about something such as going to a party, keep an open mind. “If you’re split about whether to go out, go ahead and try going to a party. You may find that you have a good time,” she said.
“If you’re in a group of people and you feel pressure to go along, it is OK to assert yourself and say, ‘I need some time to myself,'” Cobb added. “It doesn’t have to be a hostile declaration, but you can politely choose to spend some quality time by yourself. You can be selective about what you want to do.”
- Be healthful. The Mayo Clinic reminds you not to abandon healthy habits and eat and drink more than usual just because it’s the holiday season. Get plenty of sleep and schedule time for exercise.
Avoiding excessive drinking will curb the holiday blues, according to the CDC. Alcohol may make you feel “up” at first, but it’s actually a depressant; too much can make you feel worse.
During the holidays, people are exposed more to things such as alcohol and food that, combined with the heightened stress of the season, may be hard to resist, Cobb says. She suggests exercising or meditating to deal with fatigue and stress. As a result, you may be more able to resist temptations.
- Volunteer. Giving of yourself through volunteer efforts is a very effective counterbalance to sadness and depression, according to officials at Seton Hospital in Austin, Texas. It can give meaning and purpose to holidays that would otherwise seem empty.
Getting involved and helping others can be a great way to lift your spirits and make new acquaintances, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Be introspective. “Explore why you aren’t in a holiday mood,” Cobb said. “Ask yourself gently what’s going on and if you can pinpoint it.”
“You might be able to know the specific cause of why you feel depressed or sad,” Goldberg said. This can help you address any changes you might make in your life, she adds. Remind yourself that the holidays and your present circumstances will not last forever, and look forward to the future, Goldberg says.
- Start new traditions. “Create for yourself what you didn’t have in the past,” Wish said.
Knowing what caused you to be blue in the past can help you create happier memories in the future by beginning new traditions, Bentley says.
As families change and grow, traditions may need to change as well, Cobb says. With families reuniting during the holidays, parents’ and grown children’s expectations may not match, which may lead to a dip in mood. Allow yourself some time away from your family and set realistic expectations, Cobb emphasizes.
Remember that the holiday blues are usually temporary. But if you experience a prolonged depression, see changes in your personality, suffer great physical effects or have thoughts of suicide, contact a mental health professional.