Mental Health

‘Tis the Season for Holiday Blues

by:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it? 

For many people, the festive season isn’t merry and bright. The last few months of the year can bring on the holiday blues, or temporary feelings of sadness that come up during the holiday season. It can be a difficult time, especially if you’re experiencing challenges like financial strain, grief, or family stress.

Symptoms

The holiday blues can present as milder variants of anxiety or depression and have a clear association with the time of year, beginning just before the holiday season and disappearing soon after.

Signs of the holiday blues can include:

  • Sad or irritable mood
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of loneliness, tension, and/or low motivation
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty doing simple tasks

Who gets the blues?

Anyone can experience holiday blues, but some individuals may be more prone to feeling them. Pre-existing mental health conditions or high levels of stress can increase the likelihood of getting the blues. You may be more at risk if you’re also dealing with:

  • Loss or illness of a loved one
  • Economic hardships
  • Pressure “to keep up” with holiday gift-giving 
  • Social isolation from family and friends

These symptoms should be carefully observed, because they can be signs of a more serious condition like chronic depression.  

Holiday blues and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an abrupt disruption of everyday life. Holidays are usually a joyful time when loved ones get to celebrate and exchange gifts. Because of the pandemic, though, things have had to change. People are facing more financial hardship from job losses and pay cuts, limiting their ability to buy gifts. Social distancing has triggered more feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially for kids. And with this significant social isolation, there is increased pressure to “show” affection by sending more gifts. 

Managing the blues

In a usual year, steps like creating a set budget for gifts, keeping a predictable routine, spending time with family, reducing social media time, and avoiding social isolation can help beat the blues. However, this is far from a normal year. While these ideas can still be useful, it’s important to start by acknowledging and accepting the hardships of the year and your social and/or financial limitations. Then, there are a few things you can do to make the holidays easier to get through:

  • Set realistic expectations for yourself – the holidays do not have to be perfect.
  • Remember that “over-gifting” will not fill the void caused by social distancing.
  • Create healthy, respectful boundaries with family and friends.
  • Ask for help with managing holiday responsibilities.
  • Make some time for self-care, relaxation, and rest.
  • Try a new holiday tradition that is unique and special to your family.
  • Have virtual celebrations and limit indoor gatherings.
  • Follow appropriate CDC guidelines
  • Reach out to a mental health professional or doctor if needed.

More often than not, the holiday blues do not require treatment. They are typically temporary feelings that resolve once the holiday season passes, but it’s vital to keep an eye out for signs of worsening anxiety or depression. If these feelings persist into the spring or the symptoms are affecting your daily functioning, talk to a mental health professional or a primary care physician.

If there are safety concerns for those without support, the Suicide Prevention Helpline is available at 1-800-273-8255.

The bustling holiday season is a busy, stressful time of year, all complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The holiday blues are real, and there are ways you can manage them and truly enjoy what the season has to offer.

 

  • Kamal Bhatia, MD

    Adult Psychiatrist
    Specialties:
    Forensic Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Schizophrenia, Anxiety Disorders, Depression

More Resources

  • How to Identify Seasonal Affective Disorder

    In the News
    Published:

    Feeling the "winter blues" creeping in as the days get shorter and the air gets colder? Learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder and what you can do to address it.

  • OCD in the Age of COVID

    Mental Health
    Published:

    The pandemic has raised a series of interesting questions about the adaptive and maladaptive aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).