Holiday Blues

As we enter the holiday season where people are “full of joy and happiness”, it is important to realize that often people experience holiday blues instead. Just because the holiday season has rolled around and the magic of Christmas is supposed to be touching each of us does not mean this is the case.

Holiday blues can be something that naturally pops up with the stress that accompanies our holiday spirit. It can come from our feelings of not having what everyone else must have, the “perfect Christmas”. Or otherwise stated, our unrealistic expectations during this season. We are flooded with media that talks about the Hallmark family of “I’ll be home for Christmas” sitting by the fire roasting chestnuts.

There are ways to be proactive and prevent the holiday blues from being part of your holiday season. You can ease the stress by following some simple rules.

Set up realistic expectations.
Considering that only 25% of all people are living within a traditional family setting, we really are setting up unrealistic expectations. The rest, 75% of the people, are dealing with the death of a loved one, separation, divorce, remarriage, being single and unable to be with family, or job-related separations (Boyum, Richard). The holidays bring up our expectations of what family is supposed to be like and what our family is like in their humanness. Anytime we start comparing ourselves to others or the media version of what the holidays are supposed to be like, we will be disappointed. So realize that you aren’t alone, that most families aren’t the “Hallmark” picture of a family.

Lower your expectation for family gatherings
Instead of going towards those thoughts that create the holiday blues, this year work towards bypassing the holiday blues by matching your expectations with the reality of your situation. Christmas is not a magical time when things suddenly change so that life is perfect. If you deal with family conflict or difficulties with specific family members during the year, this probably isn’t going to change because it is Christmas. If you understand this before you arrive at the family dinner, you can be grateful for the good moments and accepting of the “not so good” moments during the gathering.

The season does not expel our reasons for sadness.
If loved ones are absent during the holidays, relationships are broken, or other tragedies have impacted you during this year, don’t pretend that this doesn’t exist. If you feel like it, talk openly about it. Pretending can take a lot more energy than just being real about how you are feeling. To help yourself get through the time, try to focus on the positive aspects of the lost relationship giving gratitude for those moments or focus on putting energy into other relationships that you do have right here this season. Along with this, focus on what you have this year, in this moment, instead of comparing other years and past memories. Don’t lose these moments by spending your time in the past

Save yourself from added stress.
Holiday blues can also come from the stress of adding more to the schedule when there was little room to negotiate time. Many of us were raised with the “old fashioned traditional holidays” with homemade cookies and all the trimmings. Working parents may not be able to add the tasks needed to make Christmas as your mother did. Be okay with this, accepting of your limits and allow yourself to have a bit less stress so as to handle the holidays in a better way. Give yourself the gift of acceptance of your life as it is and the realization that you don’t have to live up to the grand ideas that the TV commercials would have you believe or the wonderful Christmas that your mother always created.

Set a budget and stick to it.
Another part of the holiday expectations is that we have to buy lots of gifts for others. If we can’t financially afford it, we feel a financial strain if we buy too many gifts, or we can feel blue because we can’t afford to buy the gifts we would like to buy. Set your budget and stay within your means. Realize that another part of the blues comes after the gifts are all opened and the piles of gifts have been received. It can feel somewhat empty as this isn’t where the holiday seasonal feelings of joy will be found.

Do something for someone else.
It isn’t the creation of the perfect Hallmark picture that will bring us satisfaction at the end of the day. It is our connecting with others, accepting of our situation, and our own implementing of coping skills to focus on others that will bring this about. Being of service to others over the holidays rather than purchasing the mass amounts of gifts can help. Focus on the spirit of the holidays, such as family and togetherness, or on someone who has less than you do. Be thankful for the blessings you received during the year and focus on being in gratitude for this.

Pay attention to your signs of stress and revamp your plan.
Early warning signs for holiday seasonal depression include being more irritable, having sleep difficulties, losing interest in activities that you normally enjoy, and overreacting to minor annoyances. If you see the signs creeping into your holiday season, pause, take a moment, and breathe. Let go of the expectations, get back into enjoying the moment, and allow yourself to do less and expect less so that you can be more during the holiday season. □

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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