According to the song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the winter holidays are the hap-happiest season of all, with parties for hosting and much mistletoeing and hearts glowing while loved ones are near.
Not everyone sees the Christmas season as hap-happy. For many, it’s a painful and difficult time of the year, bringing up thoughts of fractured families, memories of lost loved ones, and feelings of loneliness while everyone else seems to have someplace to be and someone to be with. The pressure to buy gifts adds financial stress; those who can’t afford to shower their loved ones with the latest toys and gadgets may feel guilt and shame, while those who do buy worry about the mounting bills. And there’s pressure to do, do, do without stopping, from shopping to cooking to attending parties to delivering cheerful holiday greetings to all and sundry.
On top of that, the days are shortest during this time of year, with darkness falling on the heels of late afternoon. Lack of sunlight can bring feelings of gloom and depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder.
The malaise that sets in during this time of year is called holiday blues. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, intestinal problems, and unnecessary conflict with family and friends.
How can you manage the holiday blues? First of all, remember it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. A state of constant happiness—the kind promoted by holiday season retailers—is impossible to maintain. Our feelings inevitably rise and fall over the course of days and weeks. But if your feelings are falling more than rising, you might consider using one or more of the following tools:
- Keep a reasonable schedule. Don’t overschedule yourself so that you wind up feeling stressed and irritable.
- Remember that the holidays do not automatically take away feelings of aloneness, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear.
- Try to put aside resentments related to past holidays. Declare a truce with any family members or friends you have had conflict with.
- Understand that the holidays will be different from when you were a child. You are not the same person now, nor are your family members.
- If you have unpleasant memories of past holidays, remind yourself that the past does not predict the future. You have control over how your holiday unfolds. Do the things you enjoy and let go of old, negative holiday memories.
- If you’re feeling underscheduled for the holidays, look for volunteer opportunities like serving holiday dinner at a homeless center or visiting hospitalized children. There are always opportunities for community service, and helping others can go a long way toward relieving holiday blues.
- Alcohol tends to flow freely during the holidays. Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and will only increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Create time for yourself to do the things you need to do for your physical and mental wellness, whether it’s walking, spending time with a pet, or engaging in spiritual practice.
- Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends, or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in while.
Most of all, remember that the holiday season doesn’t last forever. Before you know it, life will be back to a more regular routine, the holiday hullabaloo will die down, and you won’t feel pressured to have the hap-happiest time of your life. You can just live your life, one day at a time, knowing that daylight hours are lengthening and spring is on its way.