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What to Do about the Holiday Blues

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By Julienne B. Derichs MS, LCPC

Not everyone shares in the celebration and joy associated with the holidays. Relationships can cause conflict or stress at any time, but demands are often increased during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify, especially if you are obligated to be together for several days. Yet, on the other side, facing the holidays alone can be really tough and leave you feeling cut off and sad.

Many people feel stressed and unhappy in response to the demands of shopping for gifts, spending large amounts of money, attending parties and family gatherings, and entertaining houseguest's. It is not uncommon to react to these stresses with excessive drinking and eating, difficulty sleeping and physical complaints. The holiday blues are a common result. 

What Causes the Holiday Blues? 

Fear of disappointing others, expecting gifts to improve relationships, bad memories, or anniversary reactions. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become depressed as the anniversary approaches.

Managing the Holiday Blues

While the holiday blues are usually temporary, these ideas can help make this year’s holiday experience more pleasant and less stressful.

Be realistic. Don’t expect the holiday season to solve all past problems. The forced cheerfulness of the holiday season cannot ward off sadness or loneliness.

Drink less alcohol. Drinking alcohol may give you a temporary feeling of well being, it is a depressant and never makes anything better.

Give yourself the OK not to feel cheerful. Accept how you are feeling. If you have recently experienced a loss, you can’t expect yourself to put on a happy face. Tell others how you are feeling and what you need.

Have a spending limit and stick to it. Look for holiday activities that are free, such as driving around to look at holiday decorations or window-shopping. Look for other ways to show people you care without spending money.

Be honest. Express your feelings to those around you in a constructive, honest, and open way. If you need to confront someone with a problem, begin your sentences with “I feel…”

Look for sources of support. Learn about offerings at churches, synagogues, or local mental health centers. Many of these have support groups, workshops, and activities designed to help people deal with the holiday blues.

Set limits and priorities. Be realistic about what you will be able to accomplish. Prepare a to-do list to help you arrange your priorities.

Volunteer your time. If you are troubled because you won’t be seeing your family, or because you will, volunteer to work at a hospital or food bank. Volunteering can help raise your spirits by turning your focus to people who are in need of help.

Get some exercise. Exercise has a positive impact on depression because it boosts serotonin levels. Try to get some type of exercise at least twice each week.

Creating Your Own Traditions

Often, the holidays can seem too much about what someone else wants you to do and little about what is meaningful to you. Here are three easy steps to help you create your own holiday tradition:

1. Think about what you really enjoy about the holiday season. What makes this time of year meaningful to you? Remember, what you enjoy doing may have nothing to do with what you have done in the past. Use your imagination.

2. Write your ideas down on paper. Choose one or two things you could reasonably plan on doing this holiday season. Here are some examples: 

  • playing your favorite music
  • looking at old photos 
  • spending an evening with friends with or without gifts
  • seeing a movie or play
  • reading in a bookstore 
  • having holiday coffee or hot chocolate
  • going for a walk 
  • sharing meaningful stories or memories
  • cooking a special meal

3.  Make a plan and stick to it.  Put it on your calendar and stick to it as if it were any other commitment you would make to someone else. Even if you start small this year carve out a space of time and do what is meaningful to you.

After the Holidays

For some people, holiday blues continue into the new year. Relationships can also often be stressed through the new year with Valentines Day bringing with it some triggered feelings. This is often caused by leftover feelings of disappointment during the holiday season and being physically exhausted. The blues also happen for some people because the start of a new year is a time of reflection, which can produce anxiety.

Is It More than Just the Holiday Blues?

Depression is more than just feeling sad for a few weeks. The symptoms generally include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, having less interest in daily activities, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of hopelessness. Your relationship can also suffer from being depressed.

Clinical depression requires professional treatment. If you are concerned that a friend or relative may be suffering from more than just holiday blues, you should express your concerns. If the person expresses thoughts of worthlessness or suicide, it is important to seek the help of a professional counselor.

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Contact Julienne Derichs 
Call 773-562-3074 or email me at