Holidays can be a time of delight for most people after a long year of hard work. It's not entirely clear when the festive season starts though. Traditionally, most would agree that Thanksgiving is a decisive marker of the start of the holiday season. But every year, in a phenomenon, unfortunately, named the Christmas Creep, the holiday decorations seem to come out earlier each year. No doubt there is a commercial motive behind this; regardless, it serves as a reminder for most of us that we are in the final stretch of the year, a year riddled with challenges that may have had us doubting if we would succeed and yet, here we are.
Most people look forward to reuniting with family, reconnecting with old friends perhaps, and maybe live through a few awkward dinners. But there's a significant section of us for which the thought of the holidays induces feelings of anxiety, loneliness, stress, and even dread.
What are the “Holiday Blues”?
Most functional adults have a life with predictable routines. They wake up at a certain time every weekday, perhaps eat at a favorite restaurant every other Saturday and stay out for a little bit – but not too late as to miss church on Sunday, and then on Monday, it's back to work. Different groups of people have different perspectives on this routine lifestyle. The holiday blues can happen to anyone, anywhere.
For some, particularly those with life partners that are supporting a family, going to work is just a means to ensure that their family is catered to and provided for. On the other side of the spectrum, particularly in cities and in metropolises, loneliness and isolation have become both endemic, in the sense that they affect a certain demographic in specific urban areas; and pandemic, since these issues are wide-spread across cities and states on all continents.
Who is most affected by the holiday blues?
Mostly young professionals who have recently moved out of their parents' houses, and middle-aged individuals who have either spent most of their lives alone or who've lost significant others and/or children, rely on peers and colleagues to be social tethers keeping them from completely isolating themselves socially. When the holidays come around, that regular routine is disrupted. Friends and colleagues go off on holiday to visit their families. If these individuals, even the most well adjusted ones, are without the means to travel to family, or without close family to travel to, then each reminder of the approaching festive season is a reminder that a period of disruption and loneliness is approaching. Holiday blues are the uneasy feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety which develop around certain holidays.
Holiday stress may also be caused by the financial burden which the season places on individuals. For starters, there are expectations of certain activities during this season, regardless of background, level of income and culture you come from. Over Christmas holidays, for example, some expect gifts, others expect to travel, and others expect parties or gatherings. Certain employers understand this period results in significant financial issues and allow for a bonus to be paid out. However, this is not always the case and the pressure these financial burdens create can be significant enough for a person to dread this time of year. What adds on to this pressure is the conspicuous consumption of peers.
While holiday blues may be unavoidable for some, there are methods to manage this condition and ways to minimize negative outcomes.
How You Can Beat the Holiday Blues
As mentioned, there are many reasons why you might feel sad around the holidays, such as:
- Thoughts of past holidays
- Lack of sunlight
Regardless of why you’re not quite feeling “yourself”, these are a few ways you can beat the blues come the holiday season:
Don’t be tempted to “hunker down”
Even if you’re just taking a quick walk to the library or the corner coffee shop, staying active and being in the company of other people can lift your mood. Simple gestures like a smile exchange as the person coming out holds the door for you can elevate your spirit.
But what if those places you go only remind you of the places and people you miss? Come up with something new to occupy yourself. For instance, if you live in a city that’s known for its tourism, consider going on a guided tour with some enthusiastic visitors. Just seeing happiness and smiling faces can put a spring back in your step. If that doesn’t really sound appealing, you could always volunteer at a shelter for animals or do some other activity that engages your spirit and doesn’t allow you to dwell on sadness.
If you really don’t want to be around others, consider calling or texting with someone you think might be having the same bout of holiday blues. Sometimes just knowing someone else feels the same (and cares enough to call!) can put you and your friend in a place of good cheer.
It’s okay to cry – and it’s okay to smile, too!
What if you’ve lost someone? Or worse, lost them at or near the holiday season?
You might not feel like you deserve to be happy, or maybe you feel guilty if you do experience some happiness around the holidays – which drives you further into a funk. It’s not uncommon to feel survivor’s guilt, but don’t allow your grief to dry up your wellspring of happiness.
There are five stages of grief and they don’t follow a set pattern – you may go through several stages multiple times in the same day, or even in the same hour. It’s only human to be sad and recognize that you miss your loved one – but there’s no shame in smiling or letting yourself be happy. After all, your lost loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad for long periods of time.
Reminiscing and longing for past holidays
Remember when you were a kid and Christmas was the best day ever? Christmas as an adult doesn’t always hold the same kind of feeling. Looking back at the holidays of yesteryear or keeping with traditions is a part of every holiday – not just Christmas. But maybe your memories are stuck on replay and you wish you could go back to a happier time…that isn’t a bad thing, but if you remain mentally in the past, you could be missing out on happiness in the present.
One of the best ways to get through a rough holiday memories patch is to create new ones. Making new memories or starting new traditions gives you hope and helps you look forward to the next time the holidays roll around. Maybe bake some cupcakes or cookies for some children at your local hospital or cook a meal for a family on your street. It’ll take your mind off bad memories and sadness as you watch faces light up from your gifts.
Sunny days are few and far between in the winter
The winter season brings good cheer, but in many parts of the world it also brings overcast skies and a lack of sunlight. This loss of natural light adversely impacts many people. In fact, there’s even an apt name for it – Seasonal Affective Disorder. When you find the blues setting in, go outside or, better yet, give yourself permission to book tickets to a place where the sun is still shining. Join a gym. Both sunlight and activity can help boost your immunity to the winter holiday blues.
But what if you don’t even have any money?
There’s nothing worse than already being in a funk than not having any money to do anything about it. You might be hoping to buy presents for children in your family or for friends, but limited resources can put a damper on your holiday spirit. But material items are not the only things you can offer during the holidays. You can volunteer your time at a soup kitchen, or go to the local hospital or nursing home and just hang out with patients. Patients who have no family nearby or have infrequent visitors feel incredible when you just lend an ear. There’s nothing better for your own happiness than spreading some to others.
Cheer Up 😊
All in all, the best process of eliminating your holiday blues is remaining true to yourself. If you’re invited to a gathering, what would you do if it wasn’t the holidays? You’d go. Don’t stay in isolation. Say yes to these invitations, eat, drink, and be merry! Acknowledge the small joys and be grateful for them – you’ll uncover some moments of true happiness.
And those are some memories to carry into the next year and beyond.