For many , the holiday season is not the most wonderful time of the year. Stress, loneliness, fatigue, and frustration may lead to the “Holiday Blues” from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. In most cases, symptoms are only temporary. However, if lasting more than two weeks, clinical depression and anxiety may result.
According to a recent survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse. Approximately 755 of overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied and 68% financially strained, 66% loneliness, 63% too much pressure and 57% unrealistic expectations.
Key points to understand
- Holiday blues are different from mental illness, but should be taken seriously. Holiday blues can lead to depression and anxiety.
- People already living with mental illness are often affected by the holiday blues. Individuals, families and friends should know warning signs.
- Although it’s a myth that suicide increases during the holidays, risks should always be taken seriously.
- Children and teens get the blues too. The highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in the winter.
Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Blues
- Try to stick to normal routines.
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate. Spend time with supportive, caring people.
- Eat and drink in moderation. Alcohol is a depressant. Don’t drink if you are down.
- Get exercise—even if it’s only a short walk.
- Make a to-do list. Keep things simple.
- Set reasonable expectations and goals for activities such as shopping, cooking, entertaining, attending parties or sending holiday cards.
- Set a budget for holiday activities and gift buying. Don’t overextend yourself financially.
If symptoms of depression or anxiety last more than 2 to 3 weeks, it could indicate a more serious mental health problem. Talking with your doctor and getting a referral to a mental health professional is strongly recommended.
Deciding upon your New Year’s Resolution
can also be a stressor. It can be daunting when your list of New Year’s Resolutions is as long as your holiday shopping list. In addition to the post-holiday slump, not being able to keep your resolutions by February, March or even late January may increase anxiety. When your holiday decorations are packed and stored away, the frustration of an unused gym membership or other reminders of failed resolutions can make the later winter months feel hopeless.
It is important to remember that the New Year isn’t meant to serve as a catalyst for sweeping character changes. The New Year is a time for people to reflect on their past behavior and commit to making positive lifestyle changes.
Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year,
instead of a singular, overwhelming goal is more productive. Remember, the extent of the change doesn’t matter. Rather, the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it matters.
By making your resolutions realistic, there is a greater chance that you will keep them. If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven. If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt. Changing one behavior at a time is recommended. Don’t get overwhelmed and think you have to reassess everything in your life. Also, share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to help reach your goals or a workout class at your gym. Having others with whom to share your struggles and successes make your journey to a healthier lifestyle easier and less intimidating.
Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps are completely OK. Don’t give up because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.
from those who care and will listen strengthens resiliency and the ability to manage stress. If you feel unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained and can offer strategies on how to adjust your goals so they are attainable, help you change unhealthy behaviors, and address emotional issues.
Alfonso Mercado, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist,
Valley Psychological Services,
Assistant Professor-Department of Psychology,
The University of Texas-Pan American
1201 West University Drive
Edinburg, Texas 78539