The winter holidays are a time to be merry and bright, jolly and joyful. Gifts wrapped in ribbons, cookies and hot chocolate, twinkling lights and snowflakes and music and time with family. But what if you’re not bursting with cheer? Is something wrong with you that the holidays seem to send you into a funk? Why can’t you just shake yourself off and get into the spirit of things?
A Case of the Holiday Blues
What some experts call the “holiday blues” is a real phenomenon. Holiday blues are characterized by feelings of sadness, fatigue, worry, and a sense of loss.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), holiday blues are brought on by stress, unrealistic expectations, and even sentimental memories. In addition, factors such as darker days, changes in routine, dietary changes, increased use of alcohol, the commercialization of the holidays, financial concerns, and the inability to be with family and friends can contribute to the blues.
If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or another mental health disorder, the holiday blues might be enough to send you spiraling into an intense episode, even if you’re following a protocol of medication and therapy. If you know you tend to get caught by the holiday blues, how can you prepare yourself for this time, and what can you do to manage your emotions during the festivities?
Anticipating Your Mental & Emotional State
If you know the holidays tend to cause you more stress than joy, you can prepare yourself. Stockpile the resources you will need to cope on difficult days, and communicate your needs to your loved ones. You know best which tools are most helpful during rough times, but here are a few to consider:
- Extra therapy sessions. Book these sessions in advance so you can guarantee that extra support for yourself. Being able to talk to a therapist might be all you need to get perspective and clarity on the emotions the holidays provoke for you.
- Scheduled time for self care. We’ve heard about the importance of self care so often that the message tends to go in one ear and out the other. But we’ll repeat it anyway: Fiercely commit to spending a little bit of time each day being your own good friend. Whether it’s some quiet time before bed to reflect and relax or a mid-afternoon power nap or a morning meditation or a long walk, know what helps you slow down, and do it.
- Communication of your needs. This may be the hardest of all, but it’s crucial to your sanity to tell your loved ones what you need and what they can do to help. This may mean having a family meeting to talk about what you each value most about the holiday and crafting a plan to focus on these priorities without placing undue burden on any one person.
Knowing Your Triggers & Symptoms
With a plan in place, you’re well on your way to alleviating the holiday stress that contributes to the feeling of “the blues.” Even so, it’s important to monitor your moods and energy levels so you can notice mental health symptoms as they arise. Here are some examples of symptoms you may watch for:
- Simple chores or routines feel more difficult than normal
- You feel unusually tired
- You cry easily or are more irritable than usual
- You have a hard time concentrating
- You have less interest in things that used to bring you joy
When you start to notice these symptoms, take action. You can reach out to your therapist or loved ones for support, as mentioned above, and you can also set some boundaries that allow you to rest and stay healthy. For example:
- Limit alcohol use. Excess drinking will only intensify negative feelings and bring down your mood.
- Don’t overindulge in holiday sweets and treats. Excess eating, especially of sugary foods, will affect your mood just as alcohol will. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious holiday food. Just do so in moderation.
- Get enough sleep. Set boundaries around bedtime, and commit to getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Be okay with saying “no.” You don’t have to attend every holiday gathering or buy everyone you know a pricey gift. People who love you will respect your boundaries.
- Make to-do lists, and delegate! Don’t try to do everything yourself. Keep it simple, and ask for help.
Truthfully, there is nothing to forgive. There’s nothing bad or wrong about feeling depressed when everyone else seems to be happy. But if you start to feel guilt or shame about your mental health symptoms this holiday, exercise forgiveness. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a good friend who is feeling this way.
And if you feel like you’re drowning in all of the tinsel and Christmas music, reach out for help. Eagle View Behavioral Health offers compassionate treatment to teens and adults all through the holidays and beyond. We can help you stabilize and move forward. Contact our team in Bettendorf, IA, to learn more.