It’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” Unless it’s not.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or none of these, "the holidays” are omnipresent. From TV commercials to endcap displays at the grocery store, it’s impossible to avoid reminders that the holiday season is here.
But maybe you’re not feeling it this year.
Perhaps you recently suffered a loss (a breakup, divorce or death of someone close), experienced trauma or are navigating another major life transition that’s overshadowing the presumed joy of the season. Maybe you’re struggling with depression or another mental health issue. Unfortunately, there’s no pause button on “real life” during the holidays.
Whereas during other times of the year you’re better equipped to navigate these challenges, the inherent pressure to enjoy the holidays might actually intensify your negative emotional state. It’s not uncommon for feelings of loneliness or despair to increase around the holidays.
Managing the Holiday Blues
While there is no “cure” for the holiday blues, these strategies can help you power through the season. Note that they can also be an effective way to weather other temporary emotional storms.
Resist the urge to compare. Despite how it may look from the outside, the holidays are rarely a series of Hallmark moments for anyone! What you see on others’ social media pages never tells the whole story. The pictures of the “perfect” family standing in front of the “perfectly” decorated Christmas tree may make you feel inferior, but perfection is an illusion.
Spending time with your family of origin around the holidays can trigger competitive feelings, but remember that everyone’s journey is different. Your life might be on a different timeline—or trajectory—than your older brother’s. That’s okay. And if it’s not okay with you, the power to change it lies in your hands.
Practice random acts of kindness. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate a box of toys. Doing something nice for others can be a powerful mood booster!
Surround yourself with people you care about. Seek out ways to spend time with close friends or family members whose company you enjoy. Maintaining—or even building new—bonds with likeminded people can help you feel connected. On the flip side …
Take some time for yourself. Holidays tend to be busy, filled with people and obligations. The holiday blues can amplify the “noise.” Remember that you don’t have to accept every invitation you receive. Even if you feel obligated to attend a family or work function, create boundaries and limits. Stay for an hour instead of the whole evening. Stay for one night instead of a long weekend. Find ways to recharge your emotional batteries by finding moments of quiet and solitude.
Related: Holiday Survival Guide: How to Enjoy the Holidays – Even With Toxic Relatives
Write it out. Writing can be an incredibly cathartic process for sorting out complicated emotions—or even just venting. There are no rules in journaling; what you write will never be judged, graded or read by anyone else (without your permission)—which makes it feel very safe.
Recognize the impermanence of the situation. Even the worst storms eventually pass. Humans are resilient. You are resilient, even if it feels like you’re at the end of your emotional rope. If the holidays feel particularly difficult this year, remember that they roll over into the new year quickly.
Is It the Holiday Blues—or Something Deeper?
Most people experience a range of emotions. It’s “normal” to feel hurt if someone you trust betrays you, or to feel sad after your dog dies. Hormones—and even weather—can impact your moods. But a temporary dip in your mood is not the same as depression.
Depression and anxiety can manifest in many ways, and can look very different from one person to the next. You may experience feelings—both positive and negative—more intensely than others. You may be more apt to internalize them—or to express them—than others.
Your emotional patterns are unique to you. Experiencing emotional waves that are atypical for you be a red flag worth noticing.
It’s critical to differentiate the holiday—or any temporary—blues from a more serious issue. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety that interfere with your ability to sleep, focus at work, enjoy your relationships or participate in your normal activities for more than two weeks, it might be time to reach out to a professional.
Important: If you have thoughts of suicide, dial 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately!
Whether it’s a case of the holiday blues or something deeper, know that you don’t have to “fake” feelings of joy. It’s okay to be authentic. Feel what you feel. Honor your emotions—and tune into the messages they’re sending you.
Asking for help is a sign of strength.
If you’re interested in learning more about individual psychotherapy, adolescent psychotherapy, child psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or couples counseling, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.