Along with all the cheer and excitement of the holidays, stress, expectations, and obligations often follow. And with this year’s holiday season bringing up all new stressors, you may need a refresher course on strategies to prevent holiday blues.
You might be familiar with holiday blues:
You’re supposed to be preparing for a happy family gathering, and instead you’re fretting over the stain on the tablecloth and whether your mother-in-law will complain.
After shopping for gifts for hours on end, you fall onto your sofa exhausted, discouraged, and spent.
Or you’re dreading spending time with relatives and friends who remind you of what you don’t have.
In the end, you find yourself either emotionally or literally curled into a ball and waiting for the holidays to be over.
Unfortunately, this year might feel even worse. You’ve been cooped up with your partner and children for months, so tensions are high. Traveling to see family might be out of the question, throwing a wrench in your holiday tradition.
In your distress and fatigue you think, this isn’t what the holidays are supposed to be about.
And it doesn’t have to be. There are ways to prevent holiday blues and get you back to the joy of the season.
Recognizing Holiday Blues
The season is upon us, and when you feel that stress coming on with it, you may wonder what kind of truck you’ve been hit with.
In general, there are a few key features to holiday blues:
- Feelings of sadness, unhappiness, or stress
- Usually short-lived
Holiday blues are seemingly contradictory emotions to the joy and happiness we’re “supposed” to be feeling at the holidays. They can be intense and unpleasant, and even interfere in your daily life.
Usually, the negative feelings and fatigue last only a few days to a few weeks around the holidays. They might hit you before or after the actual day of celebration, but they subside shortly after the festivities are over.
What Triggers Holiday Blues?
The triggers for holiday blues may be different for different people—and they can be a combination of factors. In broad terms, triggers for holiday blues fall into these categories:
You may already resonate with one of these categories. Maybe you can point to it and say—that one is it, that one plunges me into holiday blues every year!
Each one of these triggers is nuanced, however, and deserves unpacking to help you identify the unique combination of factors that plays into your version of holiday blues.
Whether it’s isolation and loneliness (exacerbated by the current state of the world), or a recent loss or perceived shortcoming, psychological triggers can set off deep distress around the holidays.
You may have lost someone dear to you, or had a miscarriage or failed IVF, and the holidays bring up that sense of loss in a new way.
On the other hand, you may have a completely intact family who you are unable to visit. Or you feel immense pressure to visit them despite strained relationships.
For some, the holidays are a time of reflection on the year gone by. If your year was full of unmet expectations, cue the holiday blues. Perhaps you didn’t get married as you thought you would, or didn’t have a child, or didn’t lose those ten pounds.
The reality is, there is an idealization of the holidays in our culture, and it’s perpetuated in the media. It leads us to compare ourselves to others.
Maybe you compare yourself to your peers or relatives and dwell on all the ways you think you’ve “come up short.”
Or you compare yourself, sometimes without even realizing it, to the perfect families and serendipitous love stories you see on Netflix. Instead of leaving you with a warm fuzzy feeling, that Hallmark movie leaves you feeling inadequate and alone.
Beyond being an emotional drain, the holidays can be a real drain on your pocketbook.
You may feel pressure from your children or family members to buy more or bigger gifts.
The media encourages that pressure and reminds you of what you don’t have yet. It guilts you into buying the newest, most high-tech, most fashionable __________.
In the end, you feel worn down, dissatisfied, and maybe afraid for the state of your finances.
All that shopping, planning, cooking, and hosting is a workout! It’s physically taxing.
You’re out late shopping, wrapping gifts, hiding them from the children. The weekends are spent rolling out dough, coordinating which dish goes in the oven when, and ushering groups of friends through your house.
Add to the physical exertion a change in your daily routine, less sleep, more alcohol, and a diet full of cookies, cakes, and excess… it’s a recipe for fatigue.
So How do I Prevent Holiday Blues?
There are a few tried and true tips that will help you not only “survive the holidays” but also prevent holiday blues altogether.
Dr. Irena has helped many women and couples recognize their triggers and prevent holiday blues from setting in. Couples struggling with infertility, or relationship conflict, women feeling the pressure to do it all, and women who’ve lost a baby have all looked to her for support during this season.
Here are a few tips Dr. Irena gives her clients on dealing with the stress and sadness that holidays can bring up.
Identify Your Triggers
Slow down the swirl of activity and the weight of impending emotions. Think about what is most difficult for you in the holiday season.
Is it loss, loneliness, family issues, unmet expectations, or something else?
Put a name to it. See where it comes from.
Honor Your Feelings
Whatever your triggers may be, the feelings they bring up are a normal response to experiences from your life.
Sit with those feelings and acknowledge them. It’s okay that you have negative feelings, around the holidays or any other time. Try to give yourself permission to feel exactly whatever you’re feeling.
If the feelings are intense, sitting with them might seem like a scary idea. But even the most intense feelings will lessen over time—particularly if you give yourself the opportunity to feel them when they come up.
Finally, you may have what seem like opposing or contradictory feelings. Acknowledge those as well! You may feel sadness or dread at the same time you feel excitement and joy. It is common to have conflicting feelings around the holidays.
Honor your feelings and allow each to have their time.
Be Kind to Yourself
As we’ve discovered above, your feelings are valid. There’s no need to be negative and self-critical about them.
Neither do you need to indulge comparative thoughts (especially about the Hallmark couple and their perfect sweaters). Who you are and what you have are enough.
Pretend that you’re talking to your best friend when you talk to yourself. What would you say to comfort her and encourage her through a difficult time? Do the same for yourself!
Be reasonable with your holiday schedule and your mental and emotional capacity.
You can’t do everything, so recognize when your schedule is full. Stop before you overbook yourself.
Delegate tasks or say no to taking on more than you can do alone.
By the same token, recognize your emotional and social capacity for time spent socializing with different people. If you have a difficult family situation, limit the time you spend with that part of your family. If you have a challenging coworker, limit the time you spend at that holiday happy hour.
Limit Social Media
Continuing with the idea of limits, it’s also important to limit the time you spend on social media. Social media is rife with opportunities for comparison, which can be a psychological trigger. But, the comparisons you’re making are false.
Social media is where people post pictures of staged perfection. They set the scene and put on their best clothes and best smiles. Then they choose the best photos of the bunch to post online.
What you’re comparing is your inner experience of the holiday and your life to their outer projection of what they want you to see. It’s a surefire trigger for holiday blues.
Throughout the holiday season, keep your wellbeing in mind. Take care of yourself in all the ways you practice throughout the year—but give them special emphasis now.
Get enough sleep.
Limit alcohol and sugar.
And take time away from the holiday hype. This last one also fits nicely with the idea of mindfulness, taking time to be quiet and present in the moment.
Create New Holiday Traditions to Prevent Holiday Blues
Traditions feel good because they’re familiar. They reassure us that the world is safe and there’s something we can count on.
With all the changes to our lives, routines, and traditions this year, it might be especially helpful to create some new holiday traditions.
If you’ve experienced a loss, you might place a candle on the table for your loved one. Or create an ornament for the child you lost in miscarriage.
If your family has struggled with conflict, create a tradition that switches things up. Put your Christmas tree outside this year. Buy everyone matching menorah pajamas. Or wrap all your presents in hand-painted wrapping paper.
If you’re lonely, seek company. This might be virtual video calls, or a masked gathering around a backyard firepit.
Seek Professional Help
If your efforts to prevent holiday blues just aren’t working, reach out to a professional for help. A counselor trained in women’s and couples’ issues can work with you on identifying your triggers and working through difficult emotions. They can help you set limits and brainstorm new traditions.
Holidays Without the Blues
When you’ve worked through these strategies to prevent holiday blues, you may find that the next set of holidays aren’t quite as difficult. Before you know it, your prevention strategies will become second nature.
You’ll have a good idea of what your triggers are and know how to circumvent them or ride them out. Limits and a focus on your mental and physical wellbeing will keep you energized and positive.
It will be possible to find joy and excitement around the holidays again!
For more help incorporating these strategies into your holidays, contact Dr. Irena. She specializes in the research-proven method, known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples develop and maintain emotional connection and support each other through stressful times. She has also helped women through all sorts of major stressors from family pressures to pregnancy loss and infertility.
Dr. Irena offers online therapy for women and couples in Houston, Texas and New York City.
If you would like to schedule a session, email Dr. Irena for a free 10-minute video consultation: [email protected] or call (281)-267-1742.