“What are you doing for the Thanksgiving holiday?”, seems like an innocuous question, only for some it is a springboard into tears and a beginning to a spiraling depression. Recently, I asked my yoga teacher this question as I was leaving class, when she paused and teared up saying, “You wouldn’t know, but this is a hard holiday for me. I will probably spend the day crying if I am not volunteering somewhere.” I was surprised by the sudden shift in her demeanor. She is funny and warm and seems altogether, so her sudden tearful state threw me. It also reminded me that what we see isn’t always what there is to see. People who seem really together can also be suffering in private and also people who have it together can be together and suffering- both can exist simultaneously.
Usually when people talk about Thanksgiving or the holidays they talk about gratitude, blessings, and abundance. I think we have heard about the value of gratitude, keeping a gratitude journal, looking on the bright side and really celebrating the bounty of our lives, especially at Thanksgiving and the holidays. At this time of year, people talk about Joy, but what if that isn’t your experience? What if no matter how hard you try, you can’t feel gratitude genuinely, what if you can’t really connect with your blessings or others? What if the holidays, with all of its cheerful messaging only makes you feel worse, sadder, more alone, more disconnected? What if the holidays are really hard?
The American Psychological Association found that 39% of people felt that their stress levels increased during the holiday season. For people who suffer with mental illness the rate is even higher, with 64% indicating that their conditions worsen during the holidays. The increased social obligations, events, complicated family dynamics, high, and often unrealistic expectations for the holidays really tacks on the stress. Not to mention the fact that the holidays come at the darkest and coldest time of the year. The reduced exposure to natural light impacts our body rhythms and throws us off. Reasonably then, many people find this time of year tough.
Although, not cheerful or a popular topic at holiday time, it is important to be informed. What if this is true for you or someone you love? How can you tell if you have the holiday blues versus clinical depression or anxiety? What can you do to get through the holidays? Where can you find help if these feelings are more prolonged?
Holiday blues are characterized by:
- Loneliness or isolation
- Sadness or a sense of loss
Holiday blues are temporary feelings that pass, whereas these feelings may be more prolonged if you are suffering with clinical depression. If you experience these symptoms for more than two weeks, seek help. In Maryland we have a 24-hour helpline. Just dial 988. This page also has some additional resources.
If you find yourself suffering from the holiday blues there are actions you can take:
Tips to Get Through the Holidays
- Stick to your normal routine as much as possible.
- Get enough sleep.
- Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate. Reach out to family and friends, or go to the gym to be around people.
- Spend time with caring people and say, “No” to those that drain your tapped energy.
- Eat and drink in moderation. Skip the drinks if you are feeling low.
- Get exercise, even a short walk to the mailbox could help.
- Keep things simple.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Do what you can do, and let that be enough. Some days it is hard to drag yourself forward through the day. If you got up and that seemed like a herculian effort, then know you did your best. Some days are just harder than others. Be realistic with the activities you choose to participate in. Be realistic with shopping (set a budget to help guide your choices).
- Find ways to relax.
- Lean on your spirituality. People who meditate may lower their risk of depression and reduce their stress.
- Remember holidays are short. Be patient, and take things one day at a time.
If you notice a friend feeling low during the holidays, reach out and lend an ear. While listening, remember some words are more helpful than others.
|Words that are Helpful
|Words that can be Hurtful
In short, Holidays can be hard sometimes. Be sensitive to your needs and the needs of others. The holidays offer a great opportunity for us to draw together whether it be in joy or in loving support. Finally, remember if you or someone you know is experiencing prolonged feelings (more than two weeks) of sadness, hopelessness, or loneliness, help is available at 988.
Hotline in Maryland:
Greenstein, Luna. Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues. 19 November 2015.
Health Partners, Dealing with Depression During the Holidays Accessed 16 November 2023. https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/why-we-get-depressed-during-holidays/
McLean. McLean’s Guide to Mental Health Around the Holidays. 24 October 2023
Williams, Rachael. 5 Physical Health Benefits of Spirituality. 19 July 2019.