Beat the Holiday Blues

Woman with depression during the holidays

Tips to Beat the Holiday Blues

For many, the holiday season isn’t joyful or merry, especially among women, who are more likely to oversee the many extra duties often linked with winter holidays, including hosting gatherings of friends, business associates and family; choosing, buying and wrapping holiday gifts; and decorating and coordinating family holiday schedules and activities. Add holiday duties on top of already-packed day-to-day schedules at home and in the workplace and it’s no wonder most women experience holiday blues once December rolls around, bringing with it the often-dreaded winter holiday season.

Research by the American Psychological Association (APA) found women are more likely than men to report heightened stress throughout preparations for winter holidays. What’s more, the study also found women are less likely to take time to relax or manage their holiday stress in healthy ways, often engaging in unhealthy behaviors that can trigger obesity, heart disease and diabetes, leading to serious decline in their personal health.

Your Capital Women’s Care team wants to share why some may be affected by the holiday blues, plus offer important support tips and coping strategies so you can enjoy peace, joy and initiate habits for achieving quality physical and mental health beyond the winter holiday season, giving you a great start toward a healthier new year.

Holiday Blues Causes

While many enjoy the holidays, more people, particularly women, cringe once the calendar reflects the arrival of the winter holiday season.

Unrealistic expectations, financial constraints and the inability to be with family and friends—whether through distance or loss —plus holiday preparation demands, contribute to these negative feelings, according to research (Goin, 2013.) In fact, a 2006 APA survey reflects 46% of women experience feelings of financial stress at the holidays compared to 35% of men surveyed. Research also determined women more likely than men shouldered most family holiday preparations and responsibilities.

Holiday blues can be defined as feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety that surround the holidays. Common triggers can include but are not limited to:

  • stress about family gatherings (even those on Zoom) that might devolve into arguments over sensitive topics like politics or religion
  • overspending, especially for people already feeling financial stress
  • memories of lost loved ones, combined with feelings of missing their presence
  • feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly for seniors
  • having too high or unrealistic expectations
  • and pressure to create the most festively decorated home, bake professional-grade cookies and find the “perfect” holiday gifts.

Holiday blues, which are generally temporary, can overlap with more serious mental health conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or clinical depression. Since women are more susceptible to such mental health conditions, they are more likely than men to have feelings associated with holiday blues.

Symptoms of Holiday Blues

There are several common symptoms of holiday blues. Recognizing these symptoms combined with a thorough, true examination of personal feelings can help you determine if you’re experiencing holiday blues and ward off potential meltdowns during the holidays.

Holiday blues symptoms include:

  • situational sadness
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • and stress.

The holiday blues manifest themselves in different ways, including changes in eating or sleeping habits (including eat or drinking alcohol more than usual), feeling overwhelmed and not experiencing joy or happiness in previously pleasurable activities.

These feelings often begin in November and last until the beginning of the new year. Holiday blues are different from mental illness, but short-term mental health problems must be taken seriously, as they can lead to clinical anxiety and depression.

Those with previous diagnosis of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, are especially vulnerable to elevated concerns for experiencing holiday blues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.)

If these or other concerning signs and symptoms continue beyond the holiday season and impact relationships at work, school or within the home, professional counseling may be necessary.

Children and teens also get holiday blues. The highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs during winter, according to NAMI.

Tips to Reduce Holiday Blues

There are many things you can do to reduce your susceptibility to bouts of holiday blues. The Mayo Clinic offers several coping and management strategies you can implement to experience more joy, merriment and peace this holiday season:

  • Recognize your feelings. If you have a recent loss of a loved one or you can’t see family and friends in person, realize sadness and grief are normal reactions. Take time to express your grief or sadness. Unleashing these feelings helps you to heal and move forward, making gradual room for embracing joyful, positive experiences.
  • Reach out to others. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community with others who have shared interests or hobbies. During moments of stress, talk to a trusted friend or your partner. Venting has a cathartic effect and helps you to put your thoughts and feelings into perspective. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden friendships, as well as boost your health and wellbeing. Consider dropping off a meal and dessert for an elderly neighbor during the holidays, shoveling their walkway after a snowfall, running errands or taking them for a ride to view holiday lights in the neighborhood.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be the perfect Norman Rockwell experience steeped in continuing traditions. Families change and grow; traditions and rituals often do so, too. Prioritize a few important ones but allow new ones to emerge. be open to creating new ones. If adult children and grandkids or other relatives can't visit, find new ways to celebrate together, like sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or you can meet virtually on a video call for a synchronized dinner.
  • Set aside differences. Make an honest effort to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances and be understanding if others get upset or distressed. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Limit spending. Stick to a budget. Before any gift and food shopping occurs, decide how much you can afford to spend and then stick to it. Consider making holiday gifts instead of purchasing them, particularly if you enjoy a certain craft or hobby. Make the effort to spend a few hours with your elderly aunt who’s in a nursing home. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Oftentimes spending time with others or homemade gifts are more appreciated. You can also limit spending through donating to a favorite charity in someone’s name or initiating a family gift exchange.
  • Create a plan. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Prioritize a favorite holiday activity of each person in your household and avoid a jammed social calendar. Consider online holiday shopping. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list to help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients. Line up help for meal prep and cleanup with family and friends to lighten the load.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes to everything that’s requested of you can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues understand if you can't participate in everything. If it's not possible to say no (as when your boss asks you to work overtime), adjust accordingly by removing something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

Prioritize Holiday Self-Care

It’s important to continue with established healthy habits, including proper healthy nutrition, regular sleep, daily physical exercise and making time daily for yourself.

Avoid overindulgence of sweets, fat-rich foods, plus tobacco, drugs and alcohol, all of which can lead to serious health consequences, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, clinical depression, among others.

Make some time for yourself each day to allow you to unwind and relax and ease away stress. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself: spending just 15 minutes alone without distractions may refresh you enough to tackle your holiday list with ease. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Reading a good book, listening to favorite music or enjoying stargazing during an evening walk are some options.

Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless and unable to face routine daily chores. If these feelings last beyond the start of the new year, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Take Charge of the Holidays

Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn how to recognize your holiday triggers so you can squash them before they grow and take over. With some planning and positive thinking, you can enjoy forthcoming holidays.

Your Capital Women’s Care seasoned healthcare professionals are here to answer your questions or address your concerns regarding your physical and mental health or any other women’s health issue. Our compassionate, caring team of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals wish you and your family a holiday season and new year filled with joy, happiness and optimal health.

Sources:

https://www.womenshealth.gov/blog/beat-holiday-blues
https://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/news/holiday-blues
https://www.psychology.org/resources/the-holiday-blues-how-to-cope/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/...
https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-t...
https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/12/psychologist-explains-how...
https://ujimacommunity.org/the-holiday-blues-managing-your-mental-health...
https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holiday-blues
https://healthlibrary.brighamandwomens.org/Library/Wellness/1,2094

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