“Happy Holidays!” is a familiar greeting this time of year. The holidays are normally considered a time of happiness and fun, a time to be together with family, a time of gift-giving and sharing. However, for some people, the holidays can be a time of sadness and loneliness, a time of grief, a time of depression, and anxiety. This sad feeling during this time of year is commonly referred to as the “Holiday Blues.” This year, with the added influence of Covid-19 on our mental health, I think we will experience “Holiday Blues on Steroids.”
Holiday Blues is not an official medical diagnosis. The major difference from clinical depression is that the symptoms of holiday blues are considered temporary. That does not mean that we should not take it seriously. It does affect our mood, our emotions, and our ability to function normally. And it can lead to more serious long-term mental conditions. People with existing mental health problems are even more at risk. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with an existing mental illness reported that the holidays make their condition worse.
Holiday Blues can become even more serious when combined with Covid-19’s impact on our mental condition. We are already experiencing the lack of human connection, loneliness, and fear of the unknown. Stress has been overwhelming this year with adjustments and uncertainty. In addition to financial hardships and unemployment, people have been dealing with difficult choices pertaining to the physical safety of themselves and their families. We are working from home, while often juggling zoom conferences and children’s virtual learning. Some of us are also dealing with devastating grief and the loss of a loved one due to the pandemic. Not being able to go home for the holidays and missing your family makes things even worse this year.
What are the signs to look for? First, we need to be able to recognize the symptoms of holiday blues. In 2015 the NAMI published tips on dealing with holiday blues, including some of the signs to look for.
These symptoms include the following:
• Feelings of loneliness
• Tension or irritability
• Sense of loss
• Lack of pleasure or interest in normal activities
• Withdrawing from friends and family
So, what do we do about it? There are a number of things that we can do to help ourselves or our friends and family members. Let’s start with our expectations for this holiday season. Be sensible. It will not be the same as in previous years. Accept that and understand that the holidays do not have to be “perfect” to be special. You can still make your experiences significant and memorable.
Slowing down and accepting the situation in front of you does not equal defeat. It is just the opposite. Karen Dobkins, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology at the University of California states, “We suffer a lot because we are waiting for things to change as opposed to loving or accepting what is.” On another note, perhaps this year, we may need to be more proactive and help create these positive feelings of happiness, togetherness, and connection with others. Our creativity and support for each other are most vital this holiday season.
It is also important to look at lifestyle changes as prevention of mental health problems during the holiday season. Here are a few changes that are often recommended by healthcare professionals:
Don’t Isolate – a difficult challenge for some, given the social restrictions caused by Covid-19. Now (more than usual), use the phone, Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom to stay in touch with family and friends. Exercise – it has been shown that regular physical exercise can help prevent or reduce the symptoms of depression.
Avoid Excessive Drinking – Alcohol is a depressant. It can exacerbate negative feelings.
What about professional help? Even though holiday blues are generally short-term in duration, it does not mean that you (or your loved one) should not seek professional help. If your mental health is being negatively affected, or the symptoms are lasting longer than they should, you might want to consider a psychotherapist for evaluation and clinical therapy. Your therapist will help you identify the causes of your negative thoughts. Your therapist can also help you use your strengths to find strategies, coping skills, and stress management techniques to improve your mental health during this challenging time.
Holidays change from year to year, just as people and situations do. In times like these, we should focus on creating new traditions and enjoying what we have today. Focus on enjoying your “new” experience with family and friends and the time you get to spend with them. Significant and meaningful experiences can be our new goal for this season. Happy Holidays!
Deborah Levi Lane, LCSW is a clinical therapist in private practice. She provides individual and group psychotherapy to children, adolescents, and adults. She also consults with medical groups, hospitals, and schools about the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD and other psychiatric disorders. For more information, please contact Deborah at 210-326-4294, email her at DeborahLaneLCSW@gmail. com or visit her website at DeborahLaneLCSW.com