Traditionally speaking, the end-of-the-year holidays are often associated with concepts like love, happiness, warmth, family, friendship and togetherness. But despite conventional wisdom, there are many realities of the holiday season that can make it decidedly less than “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Although the holidays are intended to be a time for relaxation, they typically come with a host of unique stressors. These may include increased busyness, stressful family interactions, social functions or lack thereof, pressures related to gift giving, and even the expectation to be happy. These stressors can sometimes trigger feelings of anxiety, sadness and loneliness referred to as the “holiday blues.”
People who have pre-existing mental health conditions like depression can be especially vulnerable to these effects. For example, in one survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with a diagnosed mental illness reported that the holidays make their condition worse. In addition, 75% of respondents said the holidays contribute to feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction.
If we hope to make it through the holiday season with our mental health intact, we need to know how to deal with negative thoughts and avoid common triggers. We spoke with Robb Enlow, Chief Clinical Officer at Cummins Behavioral Health, to learn some of the best strategies for beating the holiday blues.
Robb Enlow on Beating the Holiday Blues
As a trained mental health therapist, Robb Enlow has helped many individuals work through behavioral health problems and crises, and the holiday blues are no exception. “Not everyone perceives the holidays as a happy, joyful time. For some people, they can cause an increase in depression,” he says.
According to Robb, there are some simple interventions that anyone can use to help fend off or alleviate holiday-related depression. Here are his four most valuable strategies, along with some suggestions for putting them into practice:
Seek social support, avoid isolation
If you find yourself feeling sad or lonely during the holidays, the best thing to do is seek emotional support from friends and family instead of remaining alone. “Depression is a disorder in which people do isolate,” Robb says. “Through their sadness or grief, they tend to stick by themselves, so this advice is going to the contrary of what people would normally do when they’re feeling down. You don’t necessarily need to seek out lots of people, just someone who can provide good support for you.”
A good example would be close friends, family members, or a significant other who understands your emotional struggles. Don’t worry about inconveniencing the other person or people—if they are true friends, they won’t mind supporting you in your time of need.
Continue regular wellness behaviors
One way to put negative emotions in check is to maintain your physical and mental health. This means not letting your normal wellness behaviors lapse on account of the holidays. “Number two on the list is to continue wellness behaviors such as getting enough sleep, eating the right food, not over-indulging in food, and avoiding alcohol,” Robb says.
Do your best to adhere to your regular sleep and exercise regimens during the holidays, even if this means skipping some events or gatherings. In addition, be mindful about the amount of sugary treats you consume. Don’t stray too far from your nutritional guidelines, and reach for healthy snacks whenever possible.
Re-frame negative thoughts
If negative thoughts start running through your head, it’s important not to dwell on them, as this will only worsen your mood and lead to more negative thinking. Instead, you should practice changing your thought patterns to prevent your mood from spiraling in a negative direction.
When re-framing your thoughts, the key is to divert your attention away from the idea that bothers you and toward something more comforting or constructive. Robb gives the following example: “If you’re thinking, ‘I should be happy. I should be jolly like everyone else,’ recognize that’s not necessary and re-frame the thought to something like, ‘This only comes once a year. I’m going to be able to make it through the holidays. This, too, will pass.’ “
Avoid social media triggers
Social media can be a source of anxiety and depression for many people, and this is especially true during the holiday season. “Around the holidays, people like to post all these fabulous Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives-like photos. That’s what you see on social media, and if that’s not your experience, then that can get you thinking, ‘I should be doing that. I shouldn’t be like this,’ “ Robb says.
If you’re susceptible to these kinds of triggers, you might consider taking a break from social media during the holidays. Instead of comparing your life to the videos and images you see online, turn off your screens for a while and pay attention to your own experiences—especially those that are pleasant or rewarding.
While it can be normal to feel a little down during the holiday season, persistent sadness or anxiety could be symptoms of a deeper behavioral health issue. If your “holiday blues” don’t pass or get worse over time, we encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. Our therapists and counselors at Cummins BHS are equipped to help with a wide variety of behavioral health problems.
We wish you and your loved ones a very happy, relaxing, and fulfilling holiday season!
For more wellness tips and strategies you can use during the holidays and throughout the new year, we recommend the articles below!