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Recognizing and Conquering Those Holiday Blues

Strategies to help you make it through the holidays on your own terms.

Key points

  • If you celebrate the holidays, set reasonable limits on your spending and manage your time and efforts wisely.
  • Make your own traditions, connect with people whose company you enjoy, and plan to do something you love. 
  • This is the time of year when daylight is at a premium, and a lack of exposure to sunlight adversely affects many of us. 

As the end of the year quickly approaches, for many people, so do the holiday blues. What is it about this traditionally joyful and restful time of year that somehow produces the perfect storm of stress, expectation, isolation, and overextension that can leave us feeling sad, depleted, disconnected, and alone?

While some of us get into the full swing of the holiday spirit, others feel less than merry, happy, and engaged in the media-hyped joys of the season. What’s more, all this merry-making and missing out is going on during the shortest days of the year, when our circadian rhythms are negatively impacted by the lack of daylight, which leaves some of us struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). With so much going on all at once, let’s take a look at how to manage our moods and make the holiday season one that you can enjoy in your own fashion.

Feeling Disconnected and Alone

In our increasingly multicultural society, many people do not feel part of the traditions that are celebrated at this time of the year and may feel isolated and alone as their friends, co-workers, and neighbors celebrate the season. And some people who have traditionally celebrated the holidays do not look forward to them for myriad reasons. Those experiencing estrangement from family members may struggle with the loss of connection, isolation, and a profound sense of sadness during the holiday season. For people who are struggling with alcohol or drug use, social gatherings can be extremely stressful and challenging. Many people struggle with painful memories from their childhood. And people grieving the loss of a loved one often find their grief intensified during the festive season.

Unrealistic Expectations

Many people feel distressed and overburdened by expectations due to relentless media holiday hype that begins months ahead of the holiday season. The overcommercialization and consumerism of the holidays leave many people feeling dread of being unable to meet unrealistic expectations of lavish gift-giving and decadent celebrations. Women, in particular, often feel overburdened by the demands and expectations of the holiday season. Many people find themselves going into debt to meet unrealistic expectations.

Your Time, Your Choice, Your Intentions

Realize that you can define and decide how, where, and with whom you spend your time.

Set an intention to be kind to yourself, as well as to others. Reach out to a friend who may be isolated and alone. If you celebrate the holidays, set reasonable limits on your spending and manage your time and efforts wisely. If you’re hosting a party or a holiday meal, ask for help if you need it. If you’ve overwhelmed yourself and feel exhausted by nonstop social commitments, politely decline an invitation or two. If you’re feeling isolated and alone or feel left out as you do not celebrate the holidays, make your own traditions, connect with people whose company you enjoy, and plan to do something you love.

A Proactive Approach

If you struggle at this time of the year, consider approaching the holiday season in a new, more proactive, and positive way. Set the intention to enjoy yourself and those you love in a way that suits who you are, right now. Plan a special outing, a festive meal, or a get-together with friends. It’s important to remember that each and every day, you are living your life, and you can set your own rules. Start a new tradition with people who share your perspective, interests, and passions. Focus on what brings you joy and happiness. This may be the holiday season, but it’s your time to spend with whomever you choose, doing what you want.

7 Strategies to Conquer the Holiday Blues

  1. Acknowledge your feelings around the holidays and make plans that feel right for you.
  2. Set boundaries around your expectations for the season and set limits on your expenditures. Remember, it is the people in your life and the quality of your time together that matter most. Setting boundaries will help you manage your expectations, and staying within your comfort zone will lower stress and worry.
  3. Create a new tradition. If the holiday traditions are not part of your culture or if you no longer relate to traditional holiday celebrations, find a new way to enjoy this time of year.
  4. Don’t abandon healthy routines. Exercise, get enough sleep, and maintain the healthy self-care routines that support you in your daily life. Take care not to overindulge in alcohol in social settings.
  5. Combat SAD. Get out into the midday sunlight. Remember, this is the time of year when daylight is at a premium, and a lack of exposure to sunlight adversely affects many of us.
  6. Manage your time and energy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by demands on your time, realize that it’s alright to decline an invitation. Better to take time and rest, rather than show up exhausted and disengaged.
  7. Surround yourself with positive people and reach out and make a plan with someone you enjoy spending time with if you’re feeling isolated or alone.