Holiday Blues: what is it and how to overcome it

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The holidays are commonly seen as a time to celebrate and rejoice; however, it can also be a period of painful contemplation, grief, isolation, anxiety, and depression for some people.

Moments of sadness that last throughout the holiday season are often referred to as the holiday blues, usually around November through December. Although less severe than clinical depression, these feelings may have a significant effect on your ability to work normally during this time of year.

Overview

It is not uncommon for people who also enjoy the holidays to experience holiday depression. The holidays are generally a time of emotional rush and demands, leaving many individuals feeling anxious and stressed. Although not recognized as a condition yet, this type of mental health complication shouldn’t be ignored.

Many individuals who are coping with an underlying mental health condition can find the holidays particularly traumatic. A study carried out by the  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) showed about 64 percent of people with an existing mental condition reported that the season worsened their condition.

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Symptoms

A continuous or recurrent sensation of sadness that starts during the festive season is the most common sign of the holiday blues. The duration and intensity of this sensation may vary. Some individuals may occasionally feel depressed but experience short moments of feeling more optimistic.

Some signs of the holiday blues may include the following:

  • Hard time concentrating
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Feelings of fatigue and exhaustion
  • Feelings of extreme loneliness
  • Lack of pleasure in your usual activities
  • Disinterest in activities that are usually enjoyed
  • Sleeping too much or much less than usual
  • Trouble with decision making
  • Disassociation from family and friends

Even when engaging in activities that are usually enjoyed, a person with the holiday blues may have trouble letting loose. Activities directly linked to the holiday itself can potentially cause feelings of anxiety or depression. These activities may include family dinners, social gatherings, and gift-giving.

Sadly, to cope with holiday blues and stress, individuals often resort to harmful coping skills. The signs of the holiday blues can be made even more pronounced by binge drinking, overeating, and insomnia. There is a distinction between getting the holiday blues, in which after the end of the holidays, the symptoms become milder and vanish, and a more severe disorder that may include major depressive disorder or seasonal affective disorder.

If the seasonal symptoms cause extreme depression or are recurrent, you can speak to your mental health counsellor to find out if what you are dealing with is a sign of a major mood disorder.

Causes

There are some factors why some people might experience the holiday blues, and they include:

  • Fatigue
  • Individuals with financial problems may overextend themselves financially to provide for their friends and family
  • Poor social assistance, loneliness, and isolation
  • The stress of coping with extending family, especially those you don’t get along well with
  • Improbable expectations
  • Stress

Since the holiday signifies the start of a new year, many people may reflect on the year before and may begin to experience feelings of failure or regret. The thought of not accomplishing goals they plan to achieve before a set date can throw them into a deep state of depression.

It is also believed that expecting too much during the holidays can cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. It creates stress to feel this way, and this can add to the stress of an already chaotic time of year. Still, more anxiety can be generated by the additional responsibility of caring for houseguests, cooking and dishing, buying presents, and other holiday preparations.

Sadly, the seasonal dilemma doesn’t only affect adults. Parents should be aware that kids and teenagers can also be affected by the holiday blues. Routine shifts, missing friends, dealing with family dramas, and getting stressed about the holidays can cause a child to feel depression and anxiety. If you are worried, look for the signs and consult with your child’s pediatrician.

Diagnosis

In the official manual that is commonly used in diagnosing mental health complications, holiday blues isn’t officially categorized as a psychiatric disorder, as stated in the DSM-5. This does not mean that you would waste your time consulting with your doctor about symptoms associated with holiday blues. Your healthcare provider may inquire about the symptoms you may be experiencing, how long, and how severe.

It would help if you examined your symptoms with your doctor to decide what you are dealing with. To search for any underlying medical problems that can lead to your symptoms, your doctor may also conduct tests. For instance, hypothyroidism may often cause fatigue and depressed feelings.

Holiday Blues or SAD?

Feeling stressed or sad during the festive period could be a clear indication of a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Presently referred to as major depressive disorder, this condition often manifests as the darker, lesser day of fall and during winter when it’s colder with minimal sunlight.

A significant difference is that seasonal affective disorder commonly lasts till the end of winter, where the holiday blues is usually reduced after the beginning of the year.

Treatment

Your doctor typically won’t recommend drugs to relieve your symptoms unless you are dealing with a more severe case of depression. With social support and lifestyle changes, you can manage holiday blues on your own in certain situations. You may also be advised to seek counseling or psychotherapy from a mental health professional.

Because the holiday blues are usually brief does not suggest that it would not help to speak to a mental health professional. Your doctor will interact with you to detect negative thinking habits that lead to feelings of distress and depression.

This would help them substitute these thoughts with useful ones, and this approach is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Therapy can also be used to develop more vital skills in stress management, relationships, and communication that can be useful both in the short and long term.

Coping

There are a variety of things that you could do on your own that could make the holidays easier to cope with besides talking to a doctor or a therapist.

  • Avoid too much alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant, and any negative emotions you may have can intensify by consuming too much. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to go cold turkey. Instead, limit your intake and stop using alcohol as a means of coping with unpleasant feelings or avoiding them. Try to minimize your alcohol intake to one or two drinks while you are out at social events.
  • Don’t keep yourself hidden: A significant risk factor for depression can cause social isolation. The issue is that depression always makes you want to withdraw from yourself by staying indoors. It can be all the more challenging to reach out and find real relationships if you are on your own away from family and friends during the holidays. In situations when going home is impossible, you should look for avenues to enjoy social connections.

    Friends and co-workers may offer assistance or suggest hosting a holiday get-together for neighbors or friends at your home. If you feel isolated, find a colleague to come over for a heart-to-heart encounter. Call anyone you miss, volunteer for a cause, join a local club or even get help from a counselor.
  • Exercise regularly: Although keeping to an exercise routine when you feel down can be difficult, research has shown that daily physical activity can play a significant role in preventing and minimizing depressive symptoms. Researchers found in a study published in the “American Journal of Psychiatry” that only one hour of physical exercise per week was adequate to avoid certain potential depressive cases.

    Over the course of 11 years, a study tracked nearly 34,000 people. Participants were chosen because they were deemed “healthy” and showed no mental or physical health problems at the beginning of the study. The finding revealed that engaging in at least one hour of exercise can help to avoid 12 percent of potential depression cases.
  • Set limits: The holidays also mean that more individuals ask for support and demanding your resources and time. Invitations to holiday parties can turn into overwhelming social obligations.

    Simple favors from acquaintances can turn into massive projects that you have not planned. By understanding your boundaries and learning how to say no, you will prevent overcommitting. That does not mean you must say “no” to all requests; make sure you create space to relax and enjoy the season for yourself.
  • Have reasonable expectations: Being excited about the holidays and making arrangements for the activities you want can be fun. Nonetheless, keeping your expectations logical is key. Holidays are bound to change just as we enter new phases in our lives.

    The trick is to reflect on the relationships we have with other people, establish new rituals, and fondly recall past holidays while also enjoying the present. Instead of achieving a flawless result, concentrate on enjoying the moment and the time you get to spend with your loved ones.

Conclusion

Holiday blues can become a time of fear and panic in the last two “ember months,” but there are measures you can take to turn things around. You could start by paying attention to the information that leads to anxiety and stress.

It would help if you also started taking measures to control these triggers by knowing what contributes to your seasonal depression before sabotaging your happiness.

Sources

An Overview of the Holiday Blues – verywellmind

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