While the holidays are weeks full of holiday cheer, lots of loving, the exchanging of presents, fruitcakes from your boss (hopefully this tradition is almost long gone) and parties, it can also be the loneliest time of year for some folks. I was reminded of this recently while scrolling the online and ongoing community art project, PostSecret, where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. Here was the secret below.
It reminds people of the holidays they once shared with family members who have now passed away. It can stir up past family drama or painful memories. For some, it can be a glaring reminder of what they once had that they now long for – maybe a past career role and the holiday party and friends that came along with it, or an old city they used to celebrate in – or even their former S.O.
Being lonely and the holiday season does not sound like they go hand-in-hand, but it is far more common than we think – or even think about as Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas plays on repeat. Having feelings of loneliness and longing not only are normal but are common around this time of year (especially with the changing of the seasons, colder weather and moving into the new year). On a 2015 survey on the holiday blues, 64 percent of people said they are affected and 24 percent say the holidays affect them a lot.
So what do we really know about the “holiday blues”?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the holiday blues are “temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even memories that accompany the season.”
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a special holiday episode of Fun Therapy is out now. (Link in Profile) 🙌🏻 Christmas is filled with hope, joy and twinkle lights but it also has moments of melancholy and sadness. it’s a part of the holiday experience that we rarely talk about and yet so many struggle with….including me. 😬. . in this episode i share how to survive family of origin conflicts, loneliness and the 4 reasons why sorrow creeps into our souls this time of year. i’m also joined by @sleepingatlast to talk about his new Christmas song, “When We’re Together.”. . please share with a friend who might need a little encouragement this season. available now on Itunes and Spotify. . #funtherapy #funtherapypodcast #depression #mentalhealth #christmasblues #soulcare #rescueacademylive
Mike Foster, author, speaker, executive counselor and host of the “Fun Therapy” podcast, describes the holiday blues as, “The melancholy feelings we feel around the holidays. It’s a unique sadness and tenderness that creeps into our hearts. Though these feelings might be a part of our lives on a normal basis, it tends to be amplified at Christmas time.”
Some indicators and feelings of the holiday blues are fatigue, tension, frustration, loneliness or isolation, sadness, and a sense of loss. Foster also shares that some other basic signifiers include anxiousness and self-medicating with alcohol or food.
So, what causes these feelings during arguably (and to some) the most festive, fun and supposed to be stress-free time of the year?
Maggie Jones, MA, LPCC, psychotherapist, astrologer, and founder of Sacred Circle Counseling believes the holiday blues are brought on by a number of things.
“I think it’s a combination of things that bring on the holiday blues, the most obvious and impactful being the cultural pressures we are bombarded with this time of year. We (in the US, at least) are inundated with messages about how we need to spend money, be surrounded by family and community, how we need to feel “happy” and festive.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also notes that “Extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season can be a catalyst for the holiday blues.”
Foster also pointed to family and sentimental memories as a trigger to the holiday blues.
“The holidays will heighten family of origin dynamics. Sometimes these dynamics bring a lot of stress and anxiety into our lives. Relationships with family members might be strained or perhaps we have lost loved ones. Christmas is also loaded with a lot of triggers from our childhood. Songs. Smells. These can immediately bring us back to a place that may represent sadness, scarcity or even trauma from our childhood,” said Foster.
Not to mention, many are dealing with colder weather and a lack of sunlight during this time. The combination of these factors and less physical activity and time outdoors can be a catalyst for holiday blues.
So how can you combat these feelings of sadness, anxiety, and loneliness around the holidays? First, start off by reminding yourself that you are not alone. Jones echoed to keep this in mind, “I would suggest reminding yourself that despite what your social media feed may be telling you, you aren’t the only one struggling through the holidays—I’d say MOST people struggle with some form of the holiday blues.”
“Honor the feelings. Don’t bury them or pretend they are not there. Get curious about what you’re experiencing and why you might be feeling the way you’re feeling,” said Foster, “Talk to someone. Often we feel shame or embarrassment doing this because we feel like its inappropriate to feel sad when you’re supposed to feel the joy and happiness at Christmas time.”
Jones stated that it’s important to be really gentle and caring toward yourself and that it really comes down to self-care — in whatever form that might look like for you. Whether it’s taking another hour for yourself at the gym, putting your phone down for the night, doing your laundry, paying the bills or meditating — it can go a long way. So, whatever your self-care of choice, don’t feel guilty about it.
The absolute best way to combat the holiday blues according to Jones? “Go into this time of year with the intention of being loving and compassionate toward yourself, and deciding to put your needs first—even if that means doing less of what others expect from you. And know that you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Setting healthy boundaries is one of the best forms of self-care out there, and one of the best ways to support your mental health year around.”
Speaking of year round, it is important to stress that the difference between the holiday blues and clinical anxiety and depression is that the feelings are temporary. But the holiday blues should still be taken seriously – and you should take the right steps to take care of yourself during this time.
But what are the right steps? After some research and speaking to both Foster and Jones, I have compiled a list of seven tips for avoiding and aiding your own holiday blues.
Keep Rocking ‘Round Your Routine
This one is tough, especially if you are traveling. When you are in another time zone or juggling a few moving pieces, such as being on someone else’s schedule or being home with your family, it’s hard to keep yourself and your routine as the priority. But remember that you can’t be your cheery, holiday self if you completely sacrifice your schedule or “me time.”
He Sees You When You’ve Had Your Fifth Glass of Eggnog
Hey, I’m the first, next and last person in line at the bar and ready to go for any late-night munchies. However, overindulgence around the holidays, as easy as it is, can lend a hand to the blues and feelings of being lethargic and overall low energy. This one is a tough one, but if you can manage to consume a fewer amount of alcohol, you might find it lending you a hand to fewer hangovers and more energy to attack the day and even get moving. Also, don’t drown out your family fights or Uncle’s crazy stories you’ve been hearing for the hundredth time with alcohol. It will end up intensifying your emotions and you will end up feeling even worse at the end of the buzz.
All I Want for Christmas is… Sleep
I think this is crucial in all aspects of your life, during all times of the year — especially so around the holidays when drinking and late nights are prevalent. Setting a schedule for yourself and giving your body enough time to reset during the night, will allow you to be clearer minded, have more energy and give you the breath to take on the holiday party and festive filled days. With one holiday activity after another —especially those late nights filled with Clausmapolitans — can throw off your sleep schedule, and eventually yourself. Studies have shown there is a link between depression and sleep, so try to keep yourself on a routine, for healthier, happier new you.
What a Bright Time, It’s the Right Time… to Focus on Others
This may seem to clash and contradict one or two of my tips on this list, but the holiday season truly is about giving. With that in mind, sometimes taking the focus off of yourself and giving or doing something for someone else can warm your heart in a way that self-care and focusing on yourself simply can’t. By volunteering, showing love for another, or giving presents to those that are less fortunate can help put you in the right spirit and switch your mind’s gears of focusing on the positive and helping others.
Everyone Dancin’ Merrily in the New Old-Fashioned Way
Yes, that’s right. It may be 30 degrees (or if you’re on the West Coast a chilly 65 degrees), but you still should bust a move! Whether that looks like going for a winter run, hitting the gym, spinning, pilates or even just a walk — get your endorphins going! Foster explicitly noted, “One of the best things we can do when we’re feeling down is to engage our body. Movement is healing. It releases all the good chemicals in our body.”
You can make this a group activity, such as taking a new yoga class with your Mom or having your S.O. come to your new favorite spin instructors class! Some other fun winter exercises can be skiing or hitting your local ice rink.
On the First Day of the Holiday Season… Set a Budget
A common stressor and cause of anxiety around the holiday season is the revolving around your finances. It’s important to set a budget for yourself and being reasonable about your gift-giving status. While you might have held the status of office elf or Santa at home, it can alleviate stress and your holiday blues to set goals and outline what is realistic for you and what you can put into all the activities that surround the holidays — from shopping, cooking, entertaining, potlucks, night outs and even holiday cards.
Good Tidings You Bring to YOU!
Last, and most importantly, it comes down to listening to yourself and your body. It’s critical to realize when you need some time for yourself, or potentially when you should go out and surround yourself with others or your family. With that being said, sit out the holiday gatherings that you need to. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of reflecting, discerning and understanding what you need to do to be feeling like yourself.
Feature image via Stocksy