If the holidays leave you feeling more blah than fa la la, you’re not alone. Many of us wish we could use some of that elfin’ magic to make the season simply disappear.
Down with the holidays
Why do so many people lack inner peace and feel lonely, sad, anxious and depressed at this time of year? Maud Purcell, a licensed clinical social worker, in a PsychCentral article Beating the Holiday Blues, identifies these key triggers for the holiday blues:
- “Pressure to feel merry: Do you feel joyous when holiday decorations go up and store windows fill with gifts? If you don’t, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. The disparity between how you actually feel and what you think you are supposed to feel can cause you guilt and confusion. This phenomenon can start you off on the wrong foot, even before the festivities begin.”
- “Remembrances of holidays past: Consciously or unconsciously, you have a mental record of previous holidays. Your mood may be contaminated by the specter of sad holidays past. If your current life circumstances are unhappy, however, you may long for the happy holidays you once enjoyed.”
- “Reminders of loved ones lost: Holidays are a time for reflection. All too often your thoughts turn to beloved family members and friends who have passed away. The subsequent sense of loss you feel can spoil even the happiest of celebrations.”
- “Loneliness: Holidays can be dreadfully lonely if you don’t have a significant other. Additionally, separation from family members (emotional or geographic) can be particularly painful at this time of year.”
- “Financial hardship: One of the joys of the holiday season is to give to others. If your financial resources are severely limited at this time of year you are likely to feel insufficient, and as though you are ‘on the outside looking in.”
- “In search of sunlight: Many people are adversely impacted by the relative loss of sunlight they experience during the winter months.…Your holiday blues will only be exacerbated by limited sunshine.”
Restore your holiday spirit
So how do can you bring your spirit back to the holidays? A WebMd Emotional Survival Guide for the Holidays notes that while people with clinical depression should seek professional help, those with the holiday blues can try these expert recommended strategies:
Visit the ghosts of holidays past
Dr. Rakesh Jain, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas, says, “See what it was in the past that led to trouble, whether drinking too much alcohol or not exercising enough or the decreased social contact that comes from going to parties with relative strangers, but forgetting to connect with friends and family.”
Jain adds that “Every time depression visits, it leaves a fingerprint. Look for what in the past has been a repeat source of trouble and find ways to avoid it. If you plan, it’s very likely that you won’t be singing the blues this holiday season.”
Write the blues away
It’s not just singing, but “Writing about your holiday blues can actually change them,” says Darlene Mininni, author of The Emotional Toolkit. “People who write about their deepest feelings when they’re upset are less depressed, less anxious, and more positive about life than people who write about mundane things.”
Beat those office party blues
Having to attend holiday parties when you’re not up for it can make you feel even more down. Dr. David Baron, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health sciences at Temple University School of Medicine and Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, advises, “If you feel politically obligated to go to an office party, go for a few minutes and make sure the boss sees you. Wish your colleagues a happy holiday and say you have another commitment.”
And, Purcell suggests the following:
Tap into the true holiday spirit
By volunteering to those less fortunate, you may feel less down. After all, giving feels good and by volunteering at a soup kitchen or wrapping gifts for unfortunate kids, you’ll be experiencing the true meaning of the holidays.
Create your own traditions
Sometimes old traditions can bring up unhappy memories. Purcell says, “If you don’t have family, share the holidays with good friends. Don’t wait for them to include you; make them welcome in your home instead. If cooking a Christmas dinner feels like a drag, do brunch. If going to a synagogue or a church service dampens your spirits, have your own worship service outdoors, at home or wherever you wish.”
Say hello to sunshine
Getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day, along with exercise, may also help chase those holiday blues away.
John Sharp, a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, notes the importance of identifying how best to take care of ourselves during the holidays by using restorative routines, such as reading a book or napping. In a Health.com article, 11 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Depression Triggers, he advises, “Figure out what basics are going to help you get through the holidays and make them a priority,”
Buffer family conflicts
Family gatherings can be one of the biggest causes of holiday stress. Jeffrey Greeson, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, North Carolina, in 11 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Depression Triggers, advises planning before conflicts arise by preparing a neutral response, such as, “Let’s talk about that another time,” or, “I can see how you would feel that way.” During times of conflict, a temporary escape to the restroom or the kitchen can also help buffer the situation.
Conjuring our own holiday magic
While we may be tempted to compare our holiday experiences to others’ and to imagine that those around us have it better than we do, remember, many people experience the blues or some form of holiday stress. Perhaps the trick is to use our own inherent magic to pay attention to our needs, manage our expectations and help transform ourselves, and bring back our joy of the season.