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Tips to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

young white man with thick scarf on beach on cloudy day
It's easy for some to get the holiday blues when you're stressed, lonely, and dealing with other hardships.

No matter what you celebrate this season, you may be experiencing what many people refer to as holiday blues. There are various reasons for experiencing this, including pre-existing depression, grief, posttraumatic stress, anxiety, or just the state of the world right now. While holiday blues are not a diagnosable mental illness, they can make this time of year measurable and stressful. If you let them persist too long, they can lead to depression and anxiety. This post talks about tips on identifying and beating the holiday blues.

What are the holiday blues?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some common reasons for holiday blues are high expectations, loneliness, and a pressure to be joyful and social.

I have also noticed many people stressed about money, since there is a heavy consumer aspect of this season.

Expectations to buy people gifts at work, in friendships, and for family members can lead to spending more money out of a sense of obligation and embarrassment than people have. You may not even like some of your family members, but still be expected to lavish gifts on them.

Grief and trauma can contribute to the holiday blues

This can be a hard time for you if you lost someone, especially if you were close to them and enjoyed spending the holidays with them. Not being able to spend time with your loved one can make this time of year painful and lonely. It may feel disloyal or unfair for you to enjoy your holidays, when your deceased loved one is not here on earth to enjoy the holidays with you.

Even if your family members, friends or ex-lovers are not deceased, you can still miss them and be sad that they are no longer in your life. Sometimes you are estranged from your family or you have divorced or broken up with someone special. The loss of that person is still very real and poignant. You may be distressed to see them on social media carrying on as if you never were part of their lives.

Sometimes, even if it was your decision to distance yourself from other people, you feel sad and wish that you had someone kind and supportive to spend the holidays with. This is normal and natural. You may not have wanted to stay with a partner or family member who treated you poorly, but you miss some aspects of them or remember the good times you spent with them. It's not usually a black or white issue; you can still grieve an abusive or dysfunctional relationship.

Other people might have awful memories of family gatherings that were painful and chaotic. If your parents or other family members abused substances like drugs or alcohol, or were abusive, family gatherings might have been frightening and disturbing. Celebrating the holidays might feel overwhelming because of the painful memories that surface when you do certain traditions.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can also be a cause of the holiday blues.

Unlike the holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that gets worse in the winter and lasts until spring. In the general population, 4 to 10% of people report this, but it might be higher in the United States.

Symptoms include depressed mood, low energy, irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, and wanting to sleep a lot. Your appetite might chime and you might crave carbohydrates more. This could lead to weight gain. Females are much more likely to be affected than males and SAD effects young people the most, between 18 and 30 years old.

SAD might be caused by a change in serotonin and melatonin, which affect mood and sleep. In the shorter days during fall and winter, because serotonin is activated by sunlight, less serotonin is available. Therefore, there is too much melatonin, which makes you sleepier, and less serotonin, which makes you feel heavy and depressed.

Tips on what to do about the holiday blues

If you find yourself getting the holiday blues, here are some ways to combat it:

  •        Lower your expectations for what you’re supposed to do. You get to choose what is important for you to accomplish and how you want to be towards other people. You don’t have to be the life of the party and attend every social event that you’re invited to.

  •        If finances are tight, try to find low-cost ways to celebrate the holidays and give gifts. Suggest white elephant games at parties where you can recycle gifts that you don’t want, and only by modest gifts for children and adolescents. If you entertain, make it potluck instead of trying to feed many people on a small budget.

  •          If you suffer from SAD, you can ask your psychiatrist about light therapy. You can also use traditional talk therapy or seek medication, if you feel that would be helpful.

  •         Avoid escaping your feelings with alcohol or drugs. Alcohol is a depressant and ultimately, just makes you feel worse.

  •         Find ways to make the holidays meaningful. Instead of just attending parties, see if there are things that you can donate for those less fortunate lying around your house. Go out and feed homeless people if you feel so moved. Donate money to charities that assist people in crisis or in war-torn areas.

  • Show yourself some compassion and understanding, as you would a friend.

  • If you go to a party or event and feel really uncomfortable, have an escape plan ahead of time so you don't feel stuck there and miserable.

  •          NAMI recommend that family members and friends recognize the symptoms of mental illness and the holiday blues, “and watch out for each other” if they see worsening of symptoms.

The holidays can be a very difficult time if you have unresolved grief or trauma, or you are already struggling with a mental illness. There are many ways to treat yourself kindlier around this time of year. If you want to improve how you cope with the holidays and other stressors, please give me a call at 661-233-6771.

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