Will You Spot the Holiday Blues in You or a Loved One?

John M. Dabbs

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The holiday blues come from Thanksgiving to New Year's, and a few weeks after. The symptoms are normally temporary, but can be serious if they last more than two weeks at a time. They can lead to depression or clinical anxiety.

Holidays can increase depression

Around 64% of those with a history of mental illness say the holidays make their condition worse. The high expectations, loneliness and stresses of the holidays are often the cause for the "holiday blues". These are often times mixed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as it comes just after a return to standard time with shorter days.

“For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year. What the survey shows is a tremendous need for people to reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season.” - Ken Duckworth, NAMI Medical Director

One participant to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) survey reported the holidays seemed to put a spotlight on everything dealing difficult about living with depression. They said the holidays put pressures on people to be joyful and social ten times more than normal. The NAMI survey respondents had some key takeaways:

  • The majority of respondents reported the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied
  • 68% felt financially strained
  • 66% experienced loneliness
  • 63% felt too much pressure
  • 57% felt they had unrealistic expectations
  • 55% found themselves remembering happier times and contrasting them with the present
  • 50% reported being unable to be with loved ones

What are the Holiday Blues

Many people think it's mental illness, but it is different. It's a short-term mental health issue which can be serious and lead to anxiety or depression. In fact, many people living with mental illness often develop the holiday blues. It's important for people - family and friends, to learn the symptoms and watch out for one another during the holidays.

There are ways to avoid, or limit the holiday blues. Alcohol, being a depressant, should be avoided when you are down or feeling depressed. Minors are also subject to holiday blues. Psychiatric hospitals see more pediatric hospitalizations during winter. While many believe suicides increase during the holidays, it is a myth. We must always be deligent in watching over our friends, family, and neighbors who are down because it is a risk that should always be taken seriously - any time year.

Help can usually be found through the nearest NAMI affiliate. There is a search pane at the bottom of their website.

Cause of holiday blues

It's complicated. While one person may become sad about something, it may affect others differently. Typical sources of the holiday blues include - stress, fatigue, financial stress, unrealistic expectations, isolation from family and friends, and even over-commercialization.

Even guests in your home may contribute to an overwhelmed feeling and cause tension. An article by Web MD offers some insight. They say people suffering from the holiday blues experience:

  • Headaches
  • Excessive drinking
  • Over-eating
  • Insomnia

Tips for coping

This Web MD article offers some good tips for coping with "Holiday Stress and Depression":

  • Have realistic holiday expectations
  • Set realistic goals
  • Pace yourself and do not take on too much responsibility
  • Prioritize your holiday tasks, and make a list.
  • Don't put all of your energy into one day (i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, News Year's Eve)
  • Enjoy the moment - live in the present.
  • Look to the future with optimism
  • Don't compare today with the past - times change and you set yourself up for disappointment
  • If you're lonely - seek out volunteer activities to help others
  • Seek out new ways to celebrate the holidays
  • Spend time with positive people
  • Give yourself some "me-time"
  • Make new friends
  • Track your spending and stay on budget

This isn't the whole list, but I am sure you too could come up with more ideas too. It's important to remember that the biggest gift we can give anyone is the gift of ourselves. Being with family and friends, or helping others is not only beneficial for the giver - but the recipients too. It costs only time in most cases.

It's important to reach out to family and friends who have lost spouses or other close family members and friends within the past year. In my own family we've lost several friends and family members this year to COVID-19, cancer, and deteriorating health that comes with age.

We may not always want to admit it, but we need each other. Sometimes we don't even know it until we are in the midst of emptiness and someone wanders into our space. Reach out, and spend time with your loved ones. If the situation with depression goes on more than a couple of weeks, look for resources within your community for help.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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