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Dealing With Holiday Blues

By Stephen Britchkow, Licensed Psychologist

Bucks and Eastern Montgomery Counties, Pennsylvania

Dealing With Holiday Blues Charles Dickens in his "Tale of Two Cities" mentioned "It was the best of times and the worst of times" to describe the mood at the onset of the French Revolution. For some of us during this holiday season the emotional upheaval triggered by sad memories, unmet expectations and seasonally induced depression can seem as inwardly challenging as a revolutionary period. Movie producers evoke an eerie poignancy by combining frightening scenes with disarmingly soothing music. The mind senses the mismatch, which creates an uneasy twilight zone sense of unreality. Likewise, we can feel out of place and distraught by our unmet longing to be in accord with holiday surroundings. The commercial activities and advertising are unrelenting. They actually reach a crescendo in December, but the commercial blitz begins as early as late summer in catalogues and store displays. It can remind us of how unconnected we are and accentuate a feeling of loneliness. Particularly vulnerable are people who were recently divorced, widowed, or experienced a loss/change.

So, what can you do to beat the holiday blues?

First, it is possible to reconcile the conflicting holiday feelings. Just as sweet and sour can have an enjoyable taste in moderation, so can the holiday blues be managed and made livable. It is important to be honest with yourself and set realistic goals. Mild or temporary symptoms of depressed mood, sadness, or fatigue do not usually require professional attention. The National Institute of Mental Health does recommend that people who experience five or more of these symptoms seek professional help:

  • Persistent sad, anxious mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

The blues can be overcome by doing much of what you may not feel like doing in a downcast mood.

  • Get out of the house and be more active. Take a walk, exercise, and go to the library or a movie, even if you have to do this alone.
  • Spend time with people you like. Call an old friend you have not spoken to in a while.
  • There are loads of activities listed in this newspaper. Check the calendar of events section. They can put you in touch with other people who could become friends.
  • Helping someone else is very effective. Volunteer at your local hospital; visit an elderly person; baby-sit for a busy overworked mother; help at a church or synagogue.
  • Begin a journal and write down what is upsetting you. Externalizing your problems helps. By using a different part of your brain, you will be making more use of your mental resources.
  • Buy a book of positive daily affirmations and read some each day. Make up some of your own. Examples: "I am a worthwhile person, Today, I am finding new ways to enjoy the holidays."
  • Give yourself permission to let go of your unhappiness despite how imperfect things are right now.
  • Remember that you are not the only one who feels alone and left out. Seek out kindred souls at a support group, e.g., one for single parents.
  • Make a list of all that is right in your life now. Literally, count your blessings. You will not be able to do this and feel self-pity at the same time.
  • Avoid excessive drinking which may make you feel more depressed.
  • To avoid feeling overly stressed do not try to do more than your share alone. Ask others for help.
Perhaps prayer can help.

I wish you a peaceful Holiday.

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