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Beating the Holiday Blues

The year-end holiday season is not always a merry and bright time for everyone. For many, the hustle and bustle of gift buying, decorating, entertaining and attending holiday parties and festivities brings on exhaustion, sadness and anxiety. Getting together in an estranged family adds even more emotional strain. 

The holidays at times can feel more bah hum bug than fa-la-la-la-la fun—especially for those already facing emotional health stressors. The American Psychological Association reports that 44% of women and 33% of men surveyed feel extra stress during the holidays. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) finds that 64% of people with mental health issues report that holidays make their conditions worse. 

Fortunately, there are tips and strategies we can take proactively to beat the holiday blues before they drag us down. 

Understanding the Holiday Blues

Typically, the holiday blues invade during the weeks of Thanksgiving to New Year’s with temporary symptoms that fade once the hectic season ends. But for some, holiday sadness and angst can lead to longer-term clinical depression and/or anxiety. 

The holidays are replete with high demands, high expectations and high emotions. People want the perfect decorations, exquisite foods and exceptional gift purchases. Time spent with family and friends is a top priority, but it can be quite a juggle to schedule everyone. Spending more time with family can be good, but it also can also stressful. The weeks of striving for over-the-top holiday experiences can invite exhaustion and disappointment. The holiday mega-sales and shopping glitz can also woo people to overspend and sink into shaming themselves for their lack of financial self-control.

For people who are not married or do not have close family or friend relationships, the holidays equate to loneliness and feeling unloved. While others excitedly talk about social gatherings, these individuals can feel alone and overlooked. 

The holidays are also a struggle for those grieving the loss of a loved one, particularly if this is the first Christmas without the person who has passed. As the year ends, others mourn significant losses or changes from the year and wish life had turned out differently. 

It’s important to note that adults are not the only ones affected by seasonal depression. Children, teens and young adults pick up on the stress and angst of adults around them. Also over the holiday season, young people face taking final exams, competing in sports tournaments and shifting from a regular routine with classmates and friends. These pressures and changes can negatively weigh down kids. 

No matter the cause of a person’s holiday blues, choosing unhealthy behaviors (i.e., binge drinking, overeating, etc.) to manage the extra stress and low feelings can contribute to longer-term health conditions including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Symptoms of Holiday Depression

The most common symptom of holiday blues is a persistent sadness that can vary in intensity and duration. Other signs of holiday depression include: 

  • Feeling depressed and listless
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Feeling worried and anxious
  • Feeling worthless or blaming self
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Drinking too much alcohol 
  • Eating too much or eating unhealthily 
  • Loss of interest in doing enjoyable activities (anhedonia)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is another type of depression that flares this time of year. Climates with less sunlight in later fall and the winter months can leave people with symptoms of sadness, depression, hopelessness, fatigue and social withdrawal. 

Children may also exhibit signs of holiday blues including a poor appetite, refusal to go to school or acting out with frustration and antisocial behavior. If parents and other adults are frazzled and scurrying around during the holidays, this contagious anxiety can transfer to the kids. 

How to Manage the Holiday Blues

Instead of being caught off guard by a bout of holiday blues, there are several proactive steps a person can take to help reduce the depressive and uneasy thoughts and emotions. Helpful ways to manage the holiday blues include:

  1. Keep expectations realistic. This is not the time of year to show your superpowers.  If you feel pressured to do everything with an A+, try aiming for an A- or even a B+. Also, if you feel overwhelmed by too many commitments, practice the art of saying “no.”  
  2. Practice patience. Take some deep breaths. Step away from the stress source and wait until you can calm your emotions. 
  3. Divide up tasks. Enlist the help of your family and friends on the shopping, decorating, cooking and more. 
  4. Be intentional about healthy nutrition. Stock up on healthy fruit and vegetable snacks. Go easy on the rich, heavy foods at the parties. Be sure to drink plenty of water each day. 
  5. Monitor your amount of sleep. If you find you are sleeping too much and dragging through the day, talk with your think doctor about ways to return to normal sleep patterns. 
  6. Get some form of exercise daily. Even if you have limited mobility, you can safely find movement activities that will boost your physical and emotional health. 
  7. Stay in communication with others. Keep close loved ones in the loop about how you are really coping this time of year. If you feel lonely, plan something fun you can do with a friend or invite people over for a casual night to watch holiday movies or play games. 
  8. Go easy on alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and can add to feelings of sadness and lethargy.
  9. Maintain a regular routine. Try to keep the kids especially on a normal schedule. Be aware how hectic weekends and late nights can disrupt everyone’s health. 

For SAD, try light therapy (phototherapy). Talk with your think healthcare provider about the use of light therapy and medications to help ease the SAD symptoms.

How Your think Team Can Help

If you are experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms that are serious enough to affect your daily routine, work, school, relationships or general health, it may be time to talk with your doctor or seek mental health assistance. Here at think, an appointment with one of our primary care providers is a good place to start. Your doctor will listen to your concerns, review your symptoms and can also give a depression screening to assess how to best help you.

Your primary care physician may prescribe antidepressants and/or refer you to our licensed mental health professionals for care such as cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are facing a more serious depression or possibly showing signs of bipolar disorder or another mental health condition, your think physician may refer you to our on-site psychiatrist. Our compassionate psychiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

All think healthcare professionals—from our physicians and behavioral health therapists to our clinical pharmacists and pain specialists—work together to help patients of all ages stay healthy and enjoy life to the fullest. Together we look at the physical and emotional side of helping you thrive even during the sometimes-daunting days of the holiday season. 

One item to keep at the top of your holiday gift list this year is YOU. Remember that you are so worth the time and effort to feel your best.

LEARN MORE ABOUT SEASONAL DEPRESSION BY SPEAKING WITH YOUR THINK PHYSICIAN

Think Whole Person Healthcare makes it easy to receive both preventative care and treatment for a wide range of health conditions. From that continual sadness to the extra weight gain, our healthcare providers and specialists are committed to your lifelong health and well-being.Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page. 

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