By: Patricia Ares-Romero, MD, FASAM
Q. What are the “holiday blues?”
The holiday blues are persistent feelings of sadness that usually begin around Thanksgiving and last through the New Year. Although holiday blues are not a recognized disorder, it is a true phenomenon that can affect one’s ability to enjoy the holiday season.
Q. Why am I depressed when this is supposed to be a happy time of year?
Even people who enjoy the holidays can experience holiday blues. This time of year can be a time of high emotional demands, which can lead to feelings of stress, irritability and anxiety. There are a number of reasons people experience holiday blues. The holidays can be a hectic time when people overextend themselves financially and are unable to meet unrealistic expectations. Others struggle with loneliness, loss of a loved one, or missing family and friends that live far. There can also be feelings of regret or failure reflecting on the past year, and nostalgia for holidays past.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38% of the people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. They listed the top stressors as lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, and the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings.
Q. What are the symptoms of the holiday blues?
Some of the signs and symptoms of the holiday blues might include: feelings of exhaustion or fatigue, losing interest in things you normally enjoy, changes in your sleep patterns, irritability, feelings of loneliness, withdrawing from friends and family. In fact, activities specific to the holiday itself may trigger feelings of anxiety and sadness. The good news is that these symptoms typically go away when the holiday season ends.
Q. What can I do to feel better?
- You should avoid excessive alcohol use, which can worsen feelings of sadness or exacerbate negative feelings you may have.
- Do not isolate yourself, social isolation can be a major risk factor for depression. Participate in social connections, volunteer, and reach out to friends and family.
- Get plenty of sleep. Being well rested can actually improve your mood and increase your energy levels.
- Do not overcommit, set healthy limits with family and friends. Learn to say “no” and make time for yourself.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can play an important role in preventing and reducing symptoms of sadness.
- Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Remember the holidays do not have to be perfect, focus on enjoying the moment.
Q. Do I need professional help?
In many cases, you can manage your holiday blues on your own with lifestyle changes and social support. If your symptoms do not improve or you begin to struggle with everyday activities, please talk to your doctor or mental health professional. If you experience thoughts of suicide, talk to your doctor immediately or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Patricia Ares-Romero, MD, FASAM, is the chief medical officer and psychiatrist at Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital with a focus on mental illness and addiction. Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, in association with the medical expertise of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, provides services in a supportive, safe, and family-like environment by nurturing, compassionate, and well-qualified staff. For more information, call 305-355-7000.