Here's how to deal with a New Year's bout of holiday blues
- If you have been feeling anxious sad during the holidays, you are not alone. The blues is common this time of year — here's how to handle it.
The holiday season is the time of joy and festivity — but not for everybody. Many people are faced with increased feelings of sadness and stress, experiencing what is known as "holiday blues."
Having such feelings during the "most wonderful time of the year" is far from unusual.
"There is this expectation that we're supposed to feel happy during the holidays...so, when people don't feel that way, it makes them feel as though something is wrong with them," Neda Gould, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told DW.
Eighty-eight percent of adult Americans feel stressed during the time between Christmas and New Year's, according to a 2018 survey. And 64% of people with mental illness reported that holidays make their symptoms worse, a study released in 2014 by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the United States found. Two years of the economic hardship, loss and separation caused by the pandemic has made things worse for people across the world.
'Negative psychological impact'
People of all age groups might feel sad or anxious during festive times for a variety of reasons. Darlene Lancer, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and the author of "Conquering Shame and Co-dependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," told DW that people might experience the holiday blues if:
"they live far away or are estranged from family members"
"they have painful memories of holidays ruined by an addicted or abusive family member"
"they feel grief and shame about being alone"
"they feel grief, regret or shame because of a breakup or divorce"
"they are single and don't have many single friends to spend time with"
"they can't afford gifts that are expected or wanted by their children, which causes shame"
"they cannot be with their children due to a custody arrangement"
In addition, "children who feel obligated to see a parent they'd rather not or have to divide Christmas between households" are susceptible to holiday blues, Lancer said. In regions where the holidays occur during wintertime, she said, "people also get SAD, a seasonal affective disorder when there is less sunlight, which leads to depression."
Gould said common holiday activities could trigger anxiety and depression, .
"Things like going holiday shopping, having cocktails with family and friends, or eating certain foods, might bring joy to some people, but, for others, it might have the opposite effect," Gould said. "Having to shop if there are financial issues going on might be stressful. People begin to indulge in sweets and unhealthy foods; that can also cause a negative psychological impact."
Handling holiday blues
An important step in fending off the holiday blues is to put your feelings into context: Is what you're experiencing just a passing episode of tension and sadness? Or do you feel it beyond the holiday season, as well?
"Everybody experiences the blues here and there," Gould said, "but then when we have an anxiety disorder that's chronic and excessive and interferes with people's functioning."
"It's the same with the kind of holiday blues," Gould said. "Once it becomes impairing or chronic or excessive, then it's different than just kind of a normal response." In such cases, people should seek professional help.
But, in general, many people might notice symptoms such as "low energy or fatigue, guilt, increased use of alcohol or drugs, sleep disturbances, increased or decreased appetite, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feeling hopeless or pessimistic, Lancer said. In more serious cases, she added, "symptoms may build to a full-blown depression that may include suicidal thoughts."
A toolkit to mitigate symptoms
For people who feel that the holidays have taken an emotional toll on them, Lancer has a few tips:
Make time to rest and rejuvenate even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.
Research has shown that staying warm improves mood while being cold can make you feel lonely. Treat yourself to a warm bath and a cup of hot tea.
Exercise and journaling are proven antidotes to depression.
Shame prevents people from being open about gift-giving when they can't afford it. Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and would like to, but can't afford it. That intimate moment will relieve your stress and nourish you both.
Spend time alone to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Pushing down feelings leads to depression. Let yourself feel. Then do something nice for yourself and socialize.
Don't isolate. Reach out to others who also may be lonely. If you don't have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying.