Merry. Happy. Festive. Joyful. These are some of the words we so often connect with the Christmas season and winter holidays. We’re supposed to be in a celebratory mood non-stop for weeks on end. But for so many of us, the holidays can be a time of sadness, even depression, as expectations and pressure build and leave us physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, there are simple steps we can take to put things in perspective, while in others, we may need to reach out for help to get us through a challenging time.
Why Do I Feel Sad Around the Holidays?
For most of us, the end-of-year holidays are packed with sweet memories– and plenty of baggage. Every emotion tends to be magnified as we move into this meaningful but often overwhelming time of year. Several factors contribute to feelings of sadness and depression around the holidays:
- Expectations and pressure are some of the main contributors to the holiday blues. In the age of social media, it’s easy to compare ourselves with others whose lives seem perfect from a distance. Instead of simple joys, we tend to focus on what we’re missing out on or not doing. Superficial comparison with friends and neighbors can cause negative thoughts and feelings of inadequacy.
- Grief and loss: the holidays can underscore our sense of loss as we grapple with the absence of family members. Pain is often magnified as we observe traditions, and the pressure we feel to be merry can make grief seem even more intense.
- Family conflict can add stress. The holidays often bring us into contact with family members with whom we have negative or complicated relationships. Obligations and pressure from other family members can leave us feeling unable to say no, even when it means physical or emotional exhaustion.
Tips for Avoiding Holiday Depression
Taking some simple steps can help us process our holiday emotions and lift the fog for better mental health during the busiest time of year. Here are a few tips for avoiding the holiday blues:
- Limit social media: comparing ourselves (our decorations, our gifts, our traditions, our timelines) with others can leave us feeling inadequate or less-than. Limiting social media and focusing on in-person contact can help. Identify some activities and traditions that are important to you regardless of external pressure and jump in without taking pictures. When you do spend time on social media at this time of year, be mindful of the fact that you’re seeing curated highlights from friends and family.
- Set boundaries. If interactions with extended family members cause stress or negative feelings, figure out how to limit those interactions. Decline invitations if needed and accept invitations on your terms.
- Be honest about finances. Financial stress can be a big factor in the holiday blues. Don’t let yourself get pressured into spending money you don’t have and suggest alternatives to traditional gift exchanges if needed.
- Get some exercise. Include regular exercise in your holiday schedule. If you have an exercise routine in place, do your best to stick with it. If not, gift yourself a yoga class or take a walk with a friend. It’s a great way to clear your head and forget about holiday pressure for a while.
- Make sure sleep happens. It’s so easy to push the limits as we try to find time for all the things. Make sure to honor bedtimes and tackle tasks a little at a time so you can avoid late nights as much as possible.
- Watch alcohol. It’s a festive time of year and sometimes this can mean overdrinking. Alcohol in moderation is okay, but set limits for yourself and be sure to drink plenty of water at holiday gatherings.
- Nutrition: the occasional holiday indulgence is completely fine in this season of treats. But it’s important to keep a baseline of healthy eating. High protein breakfasts, fruits and vegetables and regular meals can help. Keep healthy snacks like nuts on hand to regulate blood sugar as holiday prep keeps you running.
- Celebrate small moments. Identify and lift up meaningful moments as the holidays approach. And they don’t need to involve photo ops at a tree farm or a visit with Santa. Instead, a low-key lunch or family walk can provide a much-needed break from the madness.
The Holiday Blues: What Should I Do If It Seems Like Too Much?
A certain amount of worry, stress and sadness is normal during the holiday season. Acknowledging and addressing these feelings is the first step to a healthier holiday outlook. However, if feelings of sadness or symptoms of depression persist or become overwhelming, it’s time to get help. If you’re not currently getting mental health care, your primary care provider is a good place to start. We’ll check for underlying physical issues that may be contributing to the holiday blues. If medication is appropriate, our providers can help you find the right treatment. We can also refer you to a qualified therapist to help you process your emotions and behaviors. At Comprehensive Primary Care, we take a holistic view of our clients’ mental and physical health all year long. We want everyone in our community to have healthy, meaningful holidays. And sometimes self-care, including preventive medical care, is the best gift you can give yourself.