The holidays can be stressful. Shopping, social events, debt, and other pressures can lead to anxiety. Missing loved ones and stewing about past events can also contribute. This change from your everyday routine can cause you to neglect good nutrition. And you are more likely to skip exercise. Together, these factors can lead to holiday blues.
During the holidays, you may feel lonely, sad, angry, and have poor sleep. Even if you’re not prone to depression, you may have other symptoms, such as headaches, tension, and fatigue. It’s also easy to eat and drink too much.
It’s common to feel a holiday letdown after the holidays are over. Hectic holidays can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. You may feel a sense of loss or frustration. That can turn into the blues.
Don’t confuse holiday blues with clinical depression. Clinical depression is a disorder that may need to be relieved with prescribed medication or other forms of therapy. The holiday blues could require something as simple as a good listener. Clinical depression, however, can be triggered in a number of ways during or just after the holidays.
There is also a tendency to link the holiday blues with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, also called depression with seasonal pattern. SAD, however, is a diagnosable problem linked to fewer hours of sunlight during the winter. People with the holiday blues also can also have SAD. But, the two are not directly related. People with SAD have symptoms of major depression throughout the fall and winter.
You might ease your holiday blues with something as simple as getting enough rest. People tend to lose sleep during the holidays and end up shortchanging themselves. Lack of sleep can cause cloudy thinking, and irritability. It can also hamper your ability to deal with everyday stress.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and getting some exercise can ease the blues. Also, make an effort to stay positive.
Other tips to manage holiday stress:
- Have a heart-to-heart. Find someone you can talk to.
- Limit alcohol intake. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks a day.
- Stick within your normal routine as much as you can. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with all the additional holiday activities.
- Set a realistic budget and then stick to it. There are many different resources that can help you plan your spending.
- Do not label the season as a time to cure past problems.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. That means don’t go to parties when you don’t really have time. Don’t take on events that will crowd your time. Don’t overextend yourself.
- Find time for yourself.
- Enjoy free holiday activities.
The holiday blues can be quite common, but if you are feeling especially down—for example, your sleep or your appetite is affected—contact your healthcare provider or visit Mental Health America for help and guidance. If you are thinking about suicide, call 911 or your healthcare provider right away.
It’s the most stressful time of the year- so keep it simple.
With the holidays being so stressful, it’s no wonder most people feel overwhelmed and depressed.
Dr. Sally Taylor, senior vice president and chief of behavioral medicine at University Health System, offers these two pieces of holiday advice: “Give yourself a break and keep it simple.”
Your holiday to-do list might seem endless, and piled on top of your normal, busy routine. First, give yourself some regular “self-care” breaks to disconnect from all that activity, even for just a few minutes. Take a walk, listen to some music or just find a quiet spot to catch a second wind.
Don’t worry if things aren’t perfect. They won’t be. If you can’t get everything done, or if things don’t go to plan, give yourself a break. Try to remember what’s important.
Family gatherings can be stressful. Have reasonable expectations when people come together. Holidays — especially Christmas and Thanksgiving — can add pressure on families, given the iconic, Norman Rockwell-type images of a big, happy family.
“Many people expect that ongoing or chronic family conflicts will magically resolve on a holiday, only to feel devastated when it’s business-as-usual, or those conflicts are exaggerated because of all the other stressors of the holidays,” Dr. Taylor said. “Try not to make the holiday the time to work all these out. Keep it simple, limit the time with those who create the most challenges, or make a decision to spend holidays in another way.”
Problems that are not addressed or cannot be resolved the rest of the year are unlikely to be resolved simply because it’s a holiday, Dr. Taylor added.
Remember, kids get stressed too
Children are especially vulnerable to commercial encouragement during the holiday season. All kids really need are realistic expectations about gifts, an even-paced holiday season and strong, loving family traditions. Here are some ways to make the holidays special for your children:
- Spend more time with your kids. Entertain less and go to fewer parties that exclude children.
- Watch less TV and do more things as a family. Find a healthy outdoor activity to participate in.
- Include your kids in all preparations. Let your children help you decorate and bake, even if it means your creations aren’t perfect.
- Teach children the meaning of giving. Adopt a needy family and have your kids help. Suggest that your children use their own money to buy a gift for an underprivileged child. Ask them to donate one of their own gifts to a less fortunate child.
- Teach your children that gifts don’t have to be tangible. Trade intangible gifts with each other, such as helping with homework, washing the dishes and mowing the lawn. Let your children come up with their own ideas of what they can offer.
If you are interested in seeking professional help to manage stress, please contact your primary care physician or visit Department of Behavioral and Mental Health for community resources.
University Health System’s behavioral health services offers expert, compassionate care for mental and behavioral health issues in adolescents and adults. For more information, contact us at 210-358-3108.