The Holiday Blues

Dr. Sara Horner
St. Alexius’ Archway Mental Health Services

The Holiday BluesThe holidays are a time of happiness and joy.  Or are they?  Despite the belief that the holidays are a time for cheer, from a psychological viewpoint the holidays are actually one of the most difficult times of the year.  It can make a person more prone to developing “the blues” or even depression.

This can be true for a variety of reasons.  Some stress is a natural part of the holiday season.  It results from gift shopping, arranging or participating in social gatherings and even walking and driving on the snow and ice.  For some people, however, this stress can be much more intense.  For example, if a person has the desire to have the holiday season “be perfect,” that person is setting him or herself up for more stress.  Perfection is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.  Some people expect the holiday season to be perfect and are disappointed when it falls short.  Others try very hard to “get everything right” and are distressed if something does not go according to plan.  If you find yourself thinking in this way, remember to keep your hopes and expectations realistic.  Accept the negative moments as best you can and let yourself enjoy the positive moments.

For others, the holidays are a distressing time for another reason.  Many people are either separated from a loved one or have a loved one who has passed away.  If this is the case, you may find yourself missing your loved one during the holidays.  Moments of grief, sadness, and longing are natural.  It can be helpful to talk about loved ones to supportive people in your life and to do something to remember them in your own way.

The holidays can be a very lonely time for some people.  This is the case if a person feels cut-off from family and friends.  While it is never easy to feel isolated, the holidays are an especially difficult time to feel alone.  If you find yourself alone this holiday season, one of the most helpful things you can do is to join in a social activity of some sort.  This is helpful even if you are hesitant to do so or don’t know the people as well as you would like.  Becoming involved is great medicine for treating loneliness.

Lastly, even the lack of exercise and daylight in the winter takes a toll on many people physically and mentally and can make a person feel more tired, sluggish, irritable and/or depressed.  If you know that you are affected by a lack of daylight, consider spending more time outdoors or buying a light therapy box, which gives off the type of light that helps energize the body and mind.  Exercise also is a great way to jump-start the mind and body, improving mood as well as energy.

There are many reasons that the holidays can be a stressful time.  Keeping your expectations realistic, remembering loved ones who aren’t present and joining in with social activities will all help to make the holidays an enjoyable and meaningful time.