The holidays are a bit like birthdays and the Fourth of July. You’re just expected to feel good and spread good cheer. But for many people, the sight of Christmas lights or the sound of Christmas carols can trigger dark feelings and negative moods. If you’re one of these individuals who must try hard to beat the holiday blues, there are ways to help yourself.
“People often feel they’re supposed to be joyful at this time,” says Aung Thu, MD, medical director of chemical dependency at Mission Hospital, Laguna Beach. “As a result, there’s an imbalance between expectations and how one is actually feeling. This situation can really heighten anxiety and stress, leading to depression.”
The best way to avoid feeling down is to have a strategy for addressing common triggers. Here are a few good tips:
Seek the sun – Sometimes it’s not the festivities, but the season itself. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) happens when people react negatively to decreasing sun and colder temperatures. Unlike holiday blues, SAD can actually last for months. While some people do well just ensuring they experience a few hours of sun each day, others need light therapy and medication to get through the winter season.
Ditch perfection – It’s easy to be overwhelmed when being bombarded with pressure to find the right gift, throw the perfect party or even wear the ultimate holiday outfit. Remember no one has a perfect life, no matter what the magazines tout. Try having an imperfect holiday with friends. The relief of silly gifts, ugly sweaters and frozen pizza may put the merry back in your holiday.
Don’t over-commit – The weeks preceding Christmas can be filled with the stress and tension of too many activities. Families with children are especially at risk, as school plays, parties and outings all pile up on the calendar. And that’s not to mention time spent running back and forth to shopping malls. Be careful how you spend your hours during these busy days. Although you should attend your child’s holiday play, you don’t have to be the director or the stage designer. And enjoy the wonders of the Internet for stress-free shopping.
Want more tips for a less frantic holiday season? Read The 12 Stress-Free Days of Christmas.
Avoid volatile family situations – Yes, holidays are a time to visit with family members, but sometimes that lands you in the middle of a tension-filled situation. If you see a family spat brewing, protect yourself by staying neutral or helping out in the kitchen away from the fray. Or better yet, avoid the situation altogether by not attending events where you know trouble is looming. Instead, spend time with the friends and family members who welcome you and are kind to one another.
Allow yourself to grieve – For some, holidays are not about too much family, but feelings of extreme loss and loneliness. It’s not uncommon for people to feel angry that the loved one is gone. Others feel guilty for having fun. Grief is experienced in a number of ways, but most important is that you are able to talk about it, either with a close friend or a support group, which can prove a lifeline for this time of year.
Watch your habits – Whether you tend to drink, shop or eat too much when you’re stressed, the holiday season can be a risky time for losing control. Keep lists of what you eat and spend so you can gauge when you teeter on over-indulgence. The same goes for alcohol – limit your consumption because drinking too much can increase negative feelings and exacerbate depression. Seek out activities that don’t involve shopping, eating or drinking – like watching ice skaters, viewing holiday lights or playing in the snow.
Try something new – If you dread celebrating the holidays in the same way you have for years, try starting some new traditions. Join friends and family members in helping others, either by serving holiday meals, cleaning up the beach or spending time with seniors who are alone. Whatever you do, it will make you feel better about yourself and make your holidays that much more special.
The bottom line is to understand what causes your negative feelings and do your best to improve the situation. If you find you are simply too overwhelmed or suffering from depression, seek professional advice.
Getting the help you need could be the best possible way to experience the holidays and start the new year off right. Learn more about achieving peace of mind with Mission Hospital’s mental health and wellness services at your side.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.