The popular holiday songs lead us to believe it is “the most wonderful time of the year” for everyone, with nonstop “joy to the world.” In reality, the holiday season can be an emotionally difficult time for many people, leading to the holiday blues. While others are asking themselves which ugly sweater to wear, you find yourself asking, “What can I do to manage the holiday blues when everyone else seems so happy?”
Sadness during the holiday season can have many causes, and fortunately, there are ways to cope with the holiday blues that can make a difference.
Cause #1: Feeling Overwhelmed
A study found that 88 percent of Americans view the holiday season as the most stressful time of the year. We overtask ourselves in our quest to make it the best holiday ever. This year, ask for help with shopping and wrapping gifts, bake two kinds of cookies instead of three, and limit your household tasks to the essentials. No one will be judging your linen closet when they come to visit.
Cause #2: Grief or Loss
With the holidays come many happy memories of times spent with loved ones. However, the pain can run deep when they are no longer with us, especially when the loss is recent. Take the time you need to honor the memory or loss. Allow yourself to grieve the way that feels right to you. You might share stories about that person with others or privately light a candle and say a prayer. It’s OK to not be OK. If you have yet to process and heal, you can lean on us. You shouldn’t have to feel alone.
Cause #3: Comparing Yourself to Others
This path will take you directly into the world of the holiday blues. You may think, “Their house is nicer, their clothes are better, they’re buying more expensive gifts, their relationship is stronger …” and on and on. Focus on what you do have and what makes your life special. Surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook and friends who accept you for who you are. Volunteering is an excellent way to ease jealous feelings when you experience firsthand that others have struggles, too.
Cause #4: Disappointment
The holidays mark the time of year when many believe everything must be “perfect.” They expect it of themselves (perfectly spotless house, perfect gifts purchased, perfectly cooked meal) and may expect it from others. “I hope he buys me the most sentimental gift.” “I hope she doesn’t buy me something I don’t need.” Other unmet hopes and goals can lead to the holiday blues, so shift your expectations instead. Step back and look at the situation from a different perspective when things don’t go your way. Ask yourself, “What do I have to be grateful for rather than to be upset about?”
Cause #5: Unhealthy Eating and Drinking Habits
It’s impossible to ignore the season’s sweet treats, large meals, and possibly being around alcohol more often. Although a small amount of alcohol may help us “relax,” large amounts can affect judgment, worsen feelings of sadness or even lead to suicidal thoughts for some. Know what your personal limits are and stick to them, and ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable. Or, if you are already struggling with the holiday blues, sadness or depression, avoid alcohol altogether.
Increasing the intake of unhealthy foods can affect people emotionally in two ways. First, they may feel ashamed or angry with themselves for not “staying in control” of what they eat. Second, if the increase in food and beverages for several weeks results in weight gain, they may develop feelings of low self-esteem. One way to lessen the likelihood of overeating is to have a high-protein snack and a large glass of water before an event to ease hunger. When you aren’t ravenous when you arrive, you can take the time to make smarter decisions.
When to Seek Help
Given the many potential causes of the holiday blues, we can see why they are so common. We must be aware, though, of when these feelings of sadness may be signs of depression. Contact a mental health professional if you’re having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; if you’re having difficulty concentrating or feeling anxious or panicked; or if you feel emotionless and disconnected from others.
If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
We believe you shouldn’t have to feel alone, especially during this time of year. If you are concerned that your sadness might be something more than the holiday blues, we encourage you to contact us or call (667) 668-2566 to schedule an appointment. We provide in-person and virtual appointments, with locations throughout the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. region.