1 December 2019

Holiday blues

Holiday blues 1
Picture of Victor Parachin

Victor Parachin

Victor is an ordained minister and a U.S. based writer

The December holiday season inspires feelings of warmth, belonging, connection and joy for many people. But for others it evokes increased loneliness, stress, sadness, anxiety and depression.

Their experience is called a “blue” Christmas, something described by the Urban Dictionary as such: “It means to have a sad Christmas perhaps because you are away from family or alone, or even filled with thoughts of a happier time that brings tears to your eye. Blue is a symbolic color for the emotion sad.”

While there is no single reason why many experience holiday depression, the triggers for sadness seem to be: family conflict and dysfunction, heightened feelings of loneliness, additional expense, travel, unrealistic happiness expectations and changes in diet.

Here are 10 tips for dealing with holiday blues.

Plan ahead. Rather than be manipulated by the many events and pressures, plan for the best way to be engaged with holiday festivities. Examine your thoughts and feelings by asking these questions:

  • Who do I want to be with?
  • Do I need to be at this event?
  • Which person(s) would be best kept at a distance?
  • How much money is realistic for me to spend?
  • Which gatherings do I truly wish to participate in?
  • What steps can I take to maintain balance this month?
  • Do I really need to travel this long distance to be with family and friends?

Be mindful. “The way to stop perpetuating the habits that cause us unnecessary suffering is to bring mindfulness and awareness to all aspects of our lives,” says writer Karen Kissel Wegela. Try to anticipate which persons and what events may bring out the negative. Cultivating mindfulness and awareness can help ease potential tensions.

 Have an exit strategy. There may be some events you are interested in attending but you aren’t sure if they will be pleasant. Have an exit strategy in case. For example, you could plan to go late, leave early, attend with a good friend or develop some reasons to leave a party. Also, keep an eye out for events which are drop-in as those allow you to pace your visit and remain briefly or linger for longer.

Balance the social with solitude. December provides heightened opportunities for spending time with family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues. For that reason, it’s vital to make time just for yourself. In her book, Live Lagom: Balanced Living The Swedish Way, Anna Brones observes: “Solitude allows us space to think, to reflect, to unwind, to avoid outer influences. In our ever-connected world, we are rarely alone and when we are it can be easy to do things that keep us social, like emailing and texting. Give yourself the space for solitude.”

Practice self-care. The higher than usual social obligations can lead to over-eating and over-drinking. Second, there are many additional year-end work and home responsibilities. The very routines that keep you healthy and happy during the year can easily give way, increasing your levels of anxiety, stress and sadness. “Take care of yourself – don’t overeat and over-drink,” advises psychiatrist Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts. “Do your regular routines of exercise and whatever keeps you together during the year,” he adds.  As much as possible, maintain your diet, schedule and routine and make sure you get enough sleep.

Volunteer. Considered year-round volunteering which will help you feel connected to others and stave off loneliness and depression. It boosts your self-esteem and takes the focus off your own problems,” says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Research reveals that volunteering is associated with lower blood pressure, greater well-being, and a longer life.

Limit social media access. Research shows that the more social media you use, the more likely you are to suffer from anxiety or depression. The University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health conducted a study of more than 1700 millennial adults. It showed that people using seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression or anxiety than millennials who used zero to two networks. While it’s not entirely clear why social media can produce life dissatisfaction, one likely reason is comparison. We see posts of people at their best: the way they look, their exotic travels and who they are dating. We compare the reality of our lives to their ideal presentations.

Reduce holiday travel stressors. One of the busiest travel times is the summer holiday season. Even under normal conditions, travel is stressful but even more so when airports and highways are clogged with travellers desperate to get to their destinations. Some tips for reducing your stress:

  • make a list of the items you need to pack so you don’t lose sleep the night before worrying that you will forget something;
  • travel during off-peak hours as much as possible;
  • Give yourself ample time to get to the airport or make the road trip.

 Engage in spiritual practices. Give yourself some quality quiet time for prayer, meditation, or read literature which can inspire and feed your spirit. One prayer, written by the French Catholic mystic Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), who also suffered from seasons of sadness could be helpful. “My strength fails; I feel only weakness, irritation and depression. I am tempted to complain and to despair. What has become of the courage I was so proud of, and that gave me so much self-confidence?” Maintaining spiritual strength will help prevent you from becoming easily upset and frustrated and prevent small issues from becoming big issues. 

Keep expectations balanced and realistic. Author and therapist Dr Barton Goldsmith offers this holiday reminder: “You won’t get everything you want, things will go wrong, and you won’t feel like Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and don’t worry about things that are out of your control.” Avoid striving for and expecting perfection. Finally, honour and accept your feelings as they emerge but don’t allow them to drive you deeply into hopelessness and despair. Manage your feelings rather than have them manage you. In doing so, you will keep the ‘door of your’ life open for joy which comes your way and joy that you can bring to others.


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Holiday blues

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