Avoiding the Holiday Blues

It’s that time of year again and while you've done all the list-making and party-hopping, you're still finding yourself coping with feelings of sadness or loneliness. You're not alone. For many, the "season of joy" can feel like quite the opposite.
Research suggests that the holidays are a sure-fire trigger for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Take a look at some physical and psychological triggers, and suggestions for dealing with the not-so-merry holiday blues.

Holiday Blues or Depression?

First and foremost, it’s imperative to be able to tell the difference between a case of the holiday blues and a serious problem, and seek professional medical care when it’s truly needed.

Holiday Blues Symptoms:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Gastro-intestinal problems
  • Interpersonal Conflicts
  • Irritability

Depressive Disorder can include the above symptoms, but usually are more serious like:

  • Feeling Depressed, sad, discouraged
  • Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
  • Feeling slow or restless
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or inadequate
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly or making basic decisions
  • Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Withdrawal from other and lack of interest in sex

Mental Illness & Medication Side Effects

Nearly one in five Americans suffer from some type of mental illness. From workplace chaos to being pulled in a million different directions between family and friends, the season is known to worsen symptoms of conditions like depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 
SAD a type of depression that tends to occur (and recur) as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter. It is believed that affected people react to the decreasing amounts of sunlight and the colder temperatures as the fall and winter progress, resulting in feelings of depression.

This may be especially true for those taking medications, as the added stress can exacerbate certain drug side effects. If you’re taking an antidepressant or similar drug, be mindful of your physical and mental health and look out for intensified side effects like:

  • Increased anxiety, irritability, or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Trouble concentrating and handling your to-do list
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Fatigue and lowered energy levels
  • Sleep problems like drowsiness, over/under-sleeping and insomnia

Expectations of Perfection

Our culture and the media tends to paint a pretty idealistic picture of how the holidays should be, which can translate into a lot of extra pressure, which can ultimately boil down to skyrocketing anxiety and plummeting feelings of self-worth. One key culprit is the feeling that certain things must be done in certain ways. According to psychologists, there’s a need for mental flexibility during the holidays. While traditions can be unifying and fulfilling, remember that there’s always room to grow and change – especially if your mental health is at stake. Instead of focusing on what should be, make a list of the little things you already have that truly bring joy to you and your loved ones. This will take your attention away from what you lack so you can focus on the blessings that surround you. 

Family Dysfunction and Conflicts

We love our families, but sometimes they have a way of pushing our buttons. Though it may feel inevitable to endure awkward silence or a confrontation at the dinner table, have a prepared, neutral response to help nip an argument in the bud. Something like: “Let’s discuss this another time,” or “I see your point, but let’s focus on enjoying our celebration and each other’s company.”
If a grudge or bitterness against a certain person is deep-rooted, Psychology Today gives a great, actionable 10-step plan for letting go of resentment.

Financial Obligations

The holiday you’re celebrating probably didn’t start as an extravagant gift-giving affair. With that in mind, give yourself a break when you’re looking for presents. If you’ve had a tough financial year, set a “gift budget” so you don’t overspend. You could also make gifts like cookies, scrapbooks, or a painting. Most people will agree that the more creative and heartfelt the gift, the better! 

Increased Food and Alcohol Intake

The holidays are laced with delicious food and often, many rounds of drinks. However, overindulging in either (or both) will likely feed into the very depression you want to avoid. 
We have a couple of ideas if you fall under this category. First, don’t show up to a holiday party on an empty stomach. Be conscious of the protein and veggies you’re eating as they will fill you up more quickly. Save the starches for last. As for drinking, start with 2 glasses of pure water as too often we down those first drinks simply because we are thirsty.  Decide ahead of time to have a set number of drinks so you don’t over-do it or simply say “no thanks” to that fourth cup of cider. And please, always have a designated driver.

Drink water. Lots of it. It’ll keep you hydrated during the day, between drinks, and also keeps your belly full to help you avoid overeating.  Switch off between plain water and an alcoholic beverage as this hydrates your body between drinks. Every day, drink at least half your weight in ounces and drink more if you’re consuming alcohol.

Lack of Physical Exercise

It’s easy to make excuses about it being too cold outside or you being too tired, but we mean it when we say that exercise is an incredible way to release some stress from the holiday hoopla.
An article published in Harvard’s Health Publication outlines three studies in which depression was significantly reduced through routine exercise. Working out produces endorphins, which enhance immunity and reduce pain. Plus, taking time for your health always leaves a positive mental impact. If the weather is too daunting, find an indoor workout and get moving.

Mourning and Reflection

When seated around a dinner table, it’s easy to sense the absence of a loved one. Like a ghost pain, their presence is felt but not seen. This is perhaps the most painful of the depressive symptoms because it’s the most difficult to reconcile. Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., like many, is familiar with these feelings around the holidays and she offers some advice.
Begin with allowing yourself to grieve a loss – it’s a normal step in the process of healing. Feel free to talk about the person whom you’ve lost and embrace the love you had for them. Lastly, going back to our initial point: be flexible. Some family traditions are more painful in the wake of a loss, so feel free to usher in new ways to celebrate.

Staying Mentally and Physically Healthy

It’s that time of year again, but now you’re armed with some tactics to help mitigate those haunting holiday blues. We know it’s not easy but we’re here to help. Seasons change, after all.
Please also remember to take care of the physical health of yourself and your loved ones. If you encounter an injury or illness during the chaos of the holidays, remember that with our Your Care, Your Choice program, our doors, phones, and docs are open.

Walk into one of our four clinics, schedule an online Virtual Visit, or schedule a Mobile Urgent Care visit where our clinician comes to you.