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For many, the winter holidays is the season to be jolly, but for others, it leaves them feeling sad. Many people suffer from varied depression, anxiety, or just a pervasive feeling of sadness during the holidays. When this depression or anxiety is connected only to the holidays, and does not occur at other times of the years or persist after holidays are over, it’s often labeled the holiday blues.
There are many reasons why people may suffer the holiday blues, and its nothing to feel ashamed about. Primary reasons can be linked to financial outlook, extra activities and stress around the holidays, problem relationships with family past or present, being alone at the holidays, tension about having to perform or take on extra work, or tense atmospheres while driving and visiting shopping malls due to increased vehicle and foot traffic. These causes can have you feeling like hiding instead of celebrating as your anxiety or depression grows. The holiday blues can also lead to thinking patterns that aren’t helpful. If you yell at the kids, then you’re the worst mom ever, if you can’t make cookies this year you’re just not as nice as you used to be, or if you struggle financially you may feel you’ll never get out of debt. This all or nothing thinking can augment the holiday blues.
It’s important to note that the holiday blues are distinctly different from anxiety disorder, depression, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Some people truly confuse seasonal affective disorder with the holiday blues because SAD normally begins as days get darker and right around the winter holidays. The primary difference is your symptoms won’t disappear the day after New Year's. SAD usually persists through the winter months, and requires treatment by a good psychiatrist and/or therapy. Alternately, some people feel cheery during the holidays and then experience letdown afterwards. This is also not SAD, but merely a response to transition between times of activity and fun back to the life you normally lead.
Despite the holiday blues being a temporary condition, it can cast a dark shadow over any celebrations you attend or hold. You may simply not enjoy things as much as you have in previous years. It’s a good idea to examine what factors are creating these blues. Are you struggling with money, have you lost a loved one, are you sad about being single, or are you just overwhelmed with the extra work the holidays bring? Bringing to light the underlying feelings creating the blues may help you feel the feelings driving sadness or anxiety, which in turn can help diminish these feelings. As long as you fail to acknowledge what’s causing the holiday blues, you may have little chance to remedy it.
There are also some basic ways to help overcome feelings associated with the holiday blues. Mental health professionals suggest the following ideas:
Note that sometimes the holiday blues are real signs of depression. If you feel unshakable sadness, have loss of appetite or no interest in pursuing your normal life, if you’ve lost or gained weight, and especially if you begin to feel suicidal or have panic attacks, take time to see a therapist to help you accurately diagnose your degree of depression or anxiety. Talking to someone may be all you need to help you to a better mood, but at other times true depression requires medical treatment so you can shake the blues and get back to the things about your life you do enjoy.
Personally, I get the holiday blues when I get nostalgic for my childhood Christmases. I had all of those rituals to look forward to, like watching certain Christmas TV shows and going shopping at the local mall. I was still young enough to go sled riding and play in the snow. My parents and other relatives always managed to make the holidays fun.
Now that I'm in my 50s, I don't have the same sense of wonder I had as a child. Snow only means one more chore I have to take care of in the morning. I've seen those TV specials dozens of times. Most of my relatives from childhood have passed away. Christmas shopping isn't something I do for fun anymore. The rituals are still there, but they aren't quite as satisfying emotionally.
I think the holiday blues start when a person starts comparing the idealized celebrations of the past to the way things are now.
When my mother-in-law's health took a bad turn around the Christmas holidays, we weren't able to do many of the traditional things we usually did. Listening to Christmas music while spending most of my time in a hospital room became very painful. It reminded me that other people were still able to enjoy their holiday season, but I couldn't.
Fortunately, one cable music channel was still playing Christmas music in the middle of January. By that time, I was feeling better about things and I was ready to hear those holiday carols again.