By Kristen Condeelis
A brief guide to navigating the “holiday blues”
The holidays are here and although most people often perceive this time as enjoyable and exciting, that may not be the case for everyone.
Sometimes the onset of the holiday season can bring with it several negative feelings, such as sadness, disappointment, exhaustion and frustration. These feelings are frequently referred to as the “holiday blues” and can be directly related to the numerous pressures and responsibilities that coincide with the holiday season (e.g., traveling, shopping, decorating, social gatherings). They may also be tied to previous losses as it relates to mourning the death of loved ones.
Although there can be some overlap regarding symptoms, the holiday blues are distinct from other mood disorders, such as seasonal affective disorder and depression, in that the holiday blues tend to begin near the start of the holiday season and typically dissipate once the holidays have ended. Other mood disorders usually have different trajectories, a wider range of symptoms and are commonly associated with various factors that distinguish them from the holiday blues.
Some may downplay the holiday blues, but these feelings can produce a large amount of distress for those who are experiencing them. Thankfully, there are multiple strategies that can be employed to make the holiday season potentially less stressful and hopefully more enjoyable. These include planning ahead, setting boundaries, continuing to engage in a healthy and balanced routine, as well as focusing attention on the positive aspects of the holidays.
During the holiday season, proper planning may help hinder the development of the holiday blues. Budgeting for spending is one potential way to prepare in advance. This can be accomplished by generating a budget that outlines how much money will be spent on gifts, decorations, travel, food and other holiday-related expenses and by working diligently to stick to that budget after it is in place to avoid potential financial stress. In addition, scheduling travel plans well before the holidays occur and searching for the best deals on travel accommodations can also help ensure smoother travel along the way.
Setting boundaries and making a conscious effort to stick to these boundaries can also reduce the odds of being affected by the holiday blues. It is no secret that deciding which loved ones to spend the holidays with can often result in a great deal of stress and possible feelings of guilt. Making these decisions in advance (and holding firmly to them) may lessen the chances of feeling obligated to engage in last-minute changes to holiday schedules. Discussing holiday plans with loved ones early on should help decrease the chance of miscommunication and provide an opportunity to process dissatisfaction if it does arise.
Maintaining a healthy and balanced routine
The holidays can be a busy time of the year and it may be easy to allow healthy and balanced routines, such as engaging in consistent exercise, eating right, and attempting to get an adequate amount of sleep each night, to fall by the wayside. Adhering to a workout regimen and working to incorporate healthy food options at mealtimes could help offset the increased likelihood of inactivity and greater temptations to splurge on favorite holiday foods.
Sleep is another important part of maintaining a healthy and balanced holiday routine. Aiming for approximately seven to nine hours of sleep each night can be essential to feeling rested and prepared to tackle the many demands of the holiday season, and also be beneficial to immune system functioning, which may help fend off unwanted illnesses during this time of the year.
Focusing on the positive
Participating in favorite holiday traditions is one way to make the holidays more enjoyable as opposed to overly stressful. Try reminiscing about pleasant holiday memories of years past — those associated with special people, places, events or foods — and then try to incorporate elements of these experiences into the present holiday season. Focusing more attention on the meaningful aspects of the holidays, as opposed to holiday stressors, can create a more positive mood, and, in turn, a better holiday experience.
Hopefully, these strategies will be useful for managing stress this holiday season and used to help ward off symptoms of the holiday blues. Best wishes for both a happy and a healthy holiday season!
Kristen Condeelis, MA, is a doctoral psychology intern at Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services. Condeelis earned her graduate training in clinical psychology from the University of Alabama.