Experiencing holiday sadness is called the “holiday blues” or “holiday depression” and can be common this time of year. A greater amount of expectations are placed on us during this time, which brings about more stress for the average person. Those struggling with mental health issues are often especially affected by the holidays. Holiday blues start at the beginning of November and end at the start of the new year.
If you’re noticing:
- Depressed feelings or irritability
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Increased stress or anxiety
- Loss of excitement in things you used to enjoy
- Feelings of exhaustion
- Changes in appetite
…you may be experiencing holiday sadness or the holiday blues. You are not alone in this feeling.
How can you improve your mental health during the holidays?
Don’t pressure yourself to feel in the holiday spirit.
There is an expectation that the holidays are “supposed” to feel loving, warm, and magical. Hallmark movies, Christmas Cards, commercials, and the media makes us compare our lives to what we believe others are experiencing. This expectation creates disappointment when experiences fall short. Often we have an idea from our childhoods of how the holidays “should feel.” The truth is that rituals may grow and change, or they may never match what is reflected in popular culture. Psychologists recommend distancing yourself from comparisons as they make us feel like we’re coming up short. Around the holidays, comparisons significantly contribute to holiday sadness.
Practice unattachment around the holiday expectations, as they can set you up for sadness. Recognize that you don’t need to feel a certain way. Allow what is. Focus on expressing appreciation for those around you: family members, neighbors, and holiday workers. Focus on spreading joy.
Make sure to get enough sunlight every day.
Due to daylight savings time, there is less of an opportunity to receive sunlight this time of year. Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to this lack of sunlight. This can typically last around 40% of the year and is more severe than the holiday blues but can contribute to these feelings.
Receiving less sunlight means lower Vitamin D levels, directly affecting mental health. It is estimated that one billion people are deficient in Vitamin D. Though the best source of the vitamin is from the sun, you may talk to your doctor about adequate supplements during this time to increase your mood.
Dr. Andrew Huberman recommends getting sunlight early in the morning and right before the sunsets to set your inner circadian clock, balance hormones, optimize sleep, and improve mood.
Set boundaries around family members.
Though the holidays may be a great time to put aside differences for the spirit of the season, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to spend time with someone who causes you distress.
If seeing a particular family member is particularly upsetting to your mental state, you may opt-out of seeing them. If this is not an option, create an action plan. Limit the conversation time, and choose “safe” topics. Communicate your boundaries and comfort level in discussing these topics.
When your limit has been pushed, create escape plans for when conversations or situations enter “triggering” territory. Accept that you may receive a slight pushback, but recognize that this is why boundaries are created. Boundaries are a form of self-care that must be practiced consistently to signal to yourself and others their importance.
Don’t feel obligated to spend money.
The advertising industry creates a lot of pressure to spend at this time of year. Ads and commercials convince us that love is portrayed through material possessions. You may enjoy giving gifts, but don’t assume they have to break the bank. Decide what you can spend in your budget and stick to it. Do not feel pressured to buy lavish gifts. Heartfelt, sentimental gifts are also appreciated among loved ones.
Take breaks/don’t overschedule yourself.
As Christmas comes at the end of the year, realize that the energy of this time is bustling as we prepare for the holidays and wrap up loose ends. Sometimes we overschedule ourselves, which contributes to burn out and holiday sadness.
Keep your obligations in mind, but don’t add too much to your plate. Realize saying “no” to baking cookies for the holiday bake sale is an act of self-care. Recognize that you may have a long “to-do” list, but taking a break and practicing stress management and emotional regulation are essential to staying grounded during the holidays.
Get support from groups.
In our struggles, we often convince ourselves that we are all alone in our suffering. So many people feel the same way you do at this time. Whether you routinely struggle with mental health issues or are experiencing a temporary bout of seasonal blues, support groups are a great way to receive validation, feel seen, heard, and not feel alone. Several can be found online for low to no cost at nami.org or meetup.com.
Reach out for help.
If you are overscheduled this time of year, ask friends and loved ones for assistance. If you are struggling, make sure to reach out for connection, and let people you trust know that you are having a difficult time. There is no need to feel ashamed. When you ask for help, you permit others to do the same.
Sometimes we may need more help than friends or family can offer, there is no shame in this. Reaching out to a therapist or a mental health professional can help you manage difficult feelings and help you set boundaries for yourself and others.
If you are struggling with mental health this holiday season and need additional support, reach out to an ART-trained therapist near you.