The winter holidays are fast approaching. Everyone seems happy and excited except you. Intense sadness or loneliness cloud any hope of enjoyment. To make matters worse, you reproach yourself for being unable to share the holiday spirit. If you see yourself in this description, you may be suffering from the holiday blues.
Holiday blues unsettle us more than other times of sadness because they contrast with the spirit of benevolence and joy that we associate with the holidays. These blues last from a few days to a few weeks around the holidays, but usually diminish when the season is over and we resume normal routines. When we understand where the blues come from and what they look like, we are in a stronger position to manage these difficult feelings rather than let them overwhelm us.
Causes of Holiday Blues
You can probably trace your blues to several sources. Holidays usually bring stress because of the additional time and effort they ask of us. We need to shop for gifts, decorate the house, attend parties, accommodate guests, and worry about the toll all of this takes on our finances. You can make things worse by holding unrealistic expectations for what you will accomplish during this busy season.
Sadness and loneliness can be more acute when we are unable to be with family. Even if you wanted your divorce, you may find yourself missing the opportunity to share with your ex-spouse the pleasure of children opening their gifts. Losing familiar patterns before new routines have taken their place can leave you bereft. Do not be surprised if you even miss the routine of celebrating with in-laws, especially if you live apart from your extended family. Complicating the sadness are idealized memories of past holiday celebrations that airbrush the unpleasant moments.
Adding to the stress are holiday-induced changes to daily routines that play havoc with diets and sleep. If you watch your weight, during the holidays you watch your weight increase. If you eat when you are stressed or blue, and you get distressed when you gain weight, it is easy to slip into a negative cycle of 1) overeating and excessive drinking, followed by 2) remorse, coped with by 3) more overeating and excessive drinking.
Warning Signs of Holiday Blues
How do you know when momentary sadness slips into significant blues? Look for sleep problems (too much, too little, or nighttime awakenings), significant changes in appetite, or headaches. Emotionally, you may be more irritable, anxious, or agitated. Excessive feelings of guilt haunt you. You find it difficult to concentrate. Activities that usually bring pleasure, such as food, sex, work, friends, hobbies, and entertainment, no longer interest you.
Top Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues
If the holidays color your mood blue, these tips will help you get through this difficult period.
- Feeling sad, lonely, or melancholy is normal, especially during holiday seasons. Accept these feelings without berating yourself, but remember that the holiday blues will pass. When down in the dumps, it can seem like you will be stuck there forever. It is easier to survive a tough situation when you know it is temporary.
- Practice good health habits: eat right, get plenty of rest, and exercise regularly. Staying healthy reduces the intensity of the blues and its impact on your daily activities.
- Don't dwell on the past or focus on what is missing in your life. Comparing your situation to romanticized holiday movie images is a recipe for depression. Instead, reduce your expectations, create new holiday traditions, and help others (including your children) find joy in the holidays. This helps to take the focus away your sadness.
- Spend time with people, even if you feel lonely in a crowd. Reach out to someone with whom you have lost touch. If you have no one to provide comfort, treat yourself like a welcome houseguest by doing something out of the ordinary, such as preparing a candlelit supper. Treating yourself better will evoke more confidence in your ability to survive this tough period.
- Avoid overdoing it: drinking too much, eating foods high in sugar and fat, spending money you do not have all contribute to holiday stress and blues.
If, in spite of your best efforts, the blues become too severe, do not hesitate to get professional help.
Dr. Richard Warshak is the author of Divorce Poison: How To Protect Your Family From Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing (HarperCollins), the classic and best-selling parental alienation resource in the world, and co-author of Welcome Back, Pluto: Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Parental Alienation , the leading resource for families whose children struggle to stay out of the middle of parental conflicts. You may find him at www.warshak.com and his blog, Plutoverse.