The holiday season is in full swing. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year.” A time for parties and getting together with family and friends. It’s a time for having fun.
Although, for some people, the holiday season can be dreadful. The mere scent of nutmeg and pies baking in the oven can trigger a person’s mood. Feeling blue during the holiday season is a normal phenomenon.
What Are the Holiday Blues?
There’s a high expectation placed on being happy during the holidays. It’s not just a song that Elvis Presley made famous. The added stress of shopping, attending social events, baking the perfect holiday cookies, and decorating your home along with planning family dinners can make people feel uncomfortable.
The American Psychological Association states that 38% of people surveyed complain of increased stress during the holidays, which can lead to increased physical illness, anxiety, and substance abuse. The number of alcohol fatalities increase during the holiday season.
Approximately 64% of people who suffer from diagnosed mental health issues state that their symptoms worsened around the holidays.
In most cases, symptoms caused by the holiday blues can be temporary.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a natural health disorder caused by a lack of sunlight. In parts of the world that experience decreased sunlight during winter months, approximately 10 % of the population is affected by SAD and presents with symptoms.
The body’s natural circadian rhythms and the internal clock are upset due to decreased sunlight. Symptoms can start in adolescence and are more common in women than men.
Some signs and symptoms of SAD include sleeping too much, increased appetite, weight gain, decreased energy, low concentration levels, loss of interest in work and other activities, slow movement, social isolation, unhappiness, and irritability.
Symptoms can improve with light therapy. A lamp with a very bright light that mimics the sun works well. Treatment starts in November and the early winter months before symptoms manifest. Some side effects of light therapy include eye strain, headache, or mania. Et Symptoms usually get better when the seasons change.
Although there is a risk for self-harm during the holidays, according to NAMI, it’s a myth that suicides increase during the holiday season.
-Family and social dynamics
-High pressure to be in the ‘holiday spirit.’
-Ability to maintain diet and exercise routines
-Taking off time from work
-Financial Stress-Spending more money than usual
-Working too much
-Intense travel plans
Pay Attention to the Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms can begin in November and last until the beginning of the New Year.
-Lack of joy during happy times
Loneliness and Social Isolation
The holidays are full of scenes of people spending time with loved ones drinking eggnog by the fire and singing holiday songs. Loneliness during the holidays is common. Many older people tend to isolate themselves or may suffer the loss of a loved one. Lack of support or feeling loved can also lead to social isolation.
Certain things like seasonal songs, various holiday movies, or even certain aromas can trigger people who experience loneliness during the holidays. People remember past partners, children, or careers. Thoughts and feelings can also trigger unpleasant moods.
Kids Also Experience the Holiday Blues
Children may have high expectations around the holiday season. Movies and social media advertise picture-perfect holidays. A child’s mental image around the holidays may not match their reality, potentially causing a depressed mood.
Setting realistic goals and making holiday plans while incorporating children in the decision-making for the season can help parents deal with possible mood changes. Establishing family budget expectations for the holidays and having open conversations with children can help.
Parents need to differentiate when their children feel a little blue versus having a depressive episode. The darker days of winter can also increase gloomy moods in kids. The highest rate of child psychiatric admissions occurs in the winter months. If a child is feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks and the child or teen is having problems concentrating in school, it’s best to seek the help of a healthcare professional.
A recent study on sadness during the holidays came up with a quirky and creative way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. The study uses the Disney-Pixar movie ‘Inside Out,’ where the feelings from Joy to Sadness of a little girl become personified. Much like the movie, study participants picture their sadness as having human traits. The study participants were able to alleviate their symptoms and have more self-control. When sadness becomes a ‘person,’ participants could easily detach from the feeling.
Reframing an experience can also be a powerful technique to help harness your coping skills. Exploring how interpreting specific experiences and finding that your interpretations are problematic can help you shift them for a more positive experience. Reframing the experience to a more positive one can help you move your mood and current external reality.
Take Charge of Your Moods and Shake Off the Holiday Blues
-Put yourself and your mental health first
-Reach out and watch out for each other
-Talk to someone verbally instead of texting
-Create new holiday traditions
-Permit yourself to go somewhere where there are no triggering memories
-Take a walk outside
-Reread greeting cards
-Look forwards to the future instead of looking backward into the past
-Keep expectations low and realistic
-Set realistic boundaries with family members
-Take short-term mental health problems seriously
-Set healthy boundaries with friends and family when needed
-Avoid drinking alcohol when feeling depressed or down
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