The holidays can be stressful. Shopping, social events, debt, and other pressures can lead to anxiety. This year’s holiday season may be worse for anxiety and depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic and many families choosing to not do traditional holiday gatherings.
Missing loved ones and stewing about past events can also contribute. This change from your everyday routine can cause you to neglect good nutrition. And you are more likely to skip exercise. Together, these factors can lead to holiday blues.
During the holidays, you may feel lonely, sad, angry, and have poor sleep. Even if you’re not prone to depression, you may have other symptoms, such as headaches, tension, and fatigue. It’s also easy to eat and drink too much.
It’s also common to feel a holiday letdown after the holidays are over. Hectic holidays can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. You may feel a sense of loss or frustration. That can turn into the blues.
Don’t confuse holiday blues with clinical depression. Clinical depression is a disorder that may need to be treated with medicine. The holiday blues could need something as simple as a good listener. Clinical depression, however, can be triggered in a number of ways at or just after the holidays.
There is also a tendency to link the holiday blues with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called depression with seasonal pattern. SAD, however, is a diagnosable problem linked to fewer hours of sunlight during the winter. People with the holiday blues also can also have SAD. But, the 2 are not directly related. People with SAD have symptoms of major depression throughout the fall and winter.
How to deal with holiday depression
You might ease your holiday blues with something as simple as getting enough rest. People tend to lose sleep during the holidays and end up shortchanging themselves. Lack of sleep can cause cloudy thinking, and irritability. It can also hamper your ability to deal with everyday stress.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and getting some exercise can ease the blues. Also, make an effort to stay positive.
Tips to ease the holiday depression and stress
If you have the holiday blues, try these tips:
- Have a heart-to-heart with a friend.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Stick within your normal routine as much as you can.
- Set a realistic budget and then stick to it.
- Set realistic goals and expectations.
- Don't label the season as a time to cure past problems.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. That means don’t go to parties when you don’t really have time. Don’t take on events that will crowd your time. Don’t overextend yourself.
- Find time for yourself.
- Enjoy free holiday activities.
- Try to celebrate the holidays in a different way.
- Start healthy holiday traditions
- When you talk with your friends and family about plans, don’t feel pressured to participate in group celebrations. It’s okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Set realistic expectations
By far, the most important thing we can all do this year is to adjust our expectations. The holidays this year don’t have to be perfect or just like last year’s celebrations. Give yourself permission to do only what you can reasonably and safely manage — this likely means much smaller and more casual gatherings, if at all.
It’s also helpful to set realistic expectations for yourself when it comes to holiday gifts. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend and then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. No one should expect you to maintain every holiday tradition or event, especially during a pandemic.
The holiday blues can be quite common, but if you are feeling especially down—for example, your sleep or your appetite is affected, or if your feelings persist after the holidays —contact your healthcare provider or visit Mental Health America for help and guidance. If you are thinking about suicide, call 911, or your healthcare provider right away.
Dr. Andrew Siegel specializes in Internal Medicine and Pediatric Transitional Care at Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. After earning his medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine, Dr. Siegel completed residency at Tulane University Hospitals and Clinics. Dr. Siegel specializes in preventative healthcare, chronic disease management, and the transition of pediatric patients as they graduate into adult medicine.