Beating the Holiday Blues
Happy holiday music plays everywhere you turn. Stores are adorned with festive lights and decorations. Your friends’ social media posts show happy family moments. And giddy celebrities chat about the most wonderful time of the year on every TV show.
How could you possibly feel down, discouraged, or out of sorts?
If the stresses of the season and holiday preparations have you feeling blue, take heart. You are not alone. And there are steps you can take to manage your feelings and enjoy the season more fully.
Is it depression?
“Some people think that feeling a bit down or unlike your usual self is a clear sign of depression,” says Dr. Vanessa Padilla, a psychiatrist affiliated with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “But while some symptoms are similar, depression is a more serious clinical diagnosis. Those experiencing it should seek medical help.”
According to Dr. Padilla, clinical depression is typically signaled by a combination of regularly occurring symptoms, including:
- Feeling sad or tearful more often than not
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Experiencing significant changes in appetite and/or sleep
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or with excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Having extreme difficulty making decisions
- Thinking about death or suicide
“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression, but different from the holiday blues,” she adds. “Symptoms of SAD happen to come on at roughly the same time as the holiday blues, when the seasons change, and there is less sunshine in many parts of the country. People should not confuse the two. SAD is a clinical condition that is biologically-based, and the holiday blues may be caused by more situational factors in our lives.”
What causes the holiday blues?
Experts like Padilla attribute the holiday blues to a few factors. One is that with all the celebrations or festivity preparations around us, it can feel like there are great expectations for each of us—while still making sure we do everything our busy lives require.
“Sleep and exercise habits get tossed to the side. We tend to eat a lot more, sleep less, and drink more. Old memories come up, some good and some that we’d rather forget. Taken together, feeling down or blue can be a natural reaction to stresses all around us.”
The holidays can especially be difficult for families of divorce, separation or a spouse’s recent death, says Dr. Padilla. Everywhere we look we see images of the “perfect” family holiday. While those images are around us in other months, they are multiplied and magnified in the holiday season.
“We are also inundated with materialism during the gift-buying season, which causes stress for anyone cash-strapped, especially with children. We may be tempted to look at our lives and think we are a failure in some sense, or that we are not a good parent able to give our children what others do.”
The best way to fight the holiday blues is to recognize the feelings, but then take actions to get in front of them.
By staying active, and not withdrawing, our minds will thank us for it.
“Set realistic goals, activate your support system, and appreciate the traditions you have with close family and friends,” she says. “Reach out to people you really feel good spending time with. Think about the positive things you have and are appreciative of, instead of the things you do not have. By seeing others instead of just reading social media posts, it gives us a real human connection that makes it easier.”
For those with little money, she advises looking for inexpensive ways to enjoy the holiday season with loved ones. Opportunities to help others with their own needs also is a way to give and to stop focusing on ourselves.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or seasonal affective disorder, please seek assistance to ensure your best health. UHealth offers outpatient behavioral health services from five locations. Call 305-243-4000 for information.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, contact the Lifeline network, which is available 24/7 across the United States. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Written by a staff writer at UHealth.