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10 Ways to Fight the Holiday Blues

Practical tips on how to enjoy the season with no guilt.

Key points

  • The holidays don't have to be overwhelming; it's actually the perfect time to say “no” to undesired invitations.
  • Managing expectations for 2021 is important. Setting unattainable goals only paves the way to disappointment.
  • Before caring for others, it's best to nourish oneself.

“So this is Christmas…”

At this time of year, it is practically impossible to go one day without listening to John Lennon’s song. I love it, but every time I hear the second line “and what have you done?” I cringe because the answer to this question is one of the reasons behind the holiday blues.

Many people struggle emotionally because they look back and see very little accomplished. Either that or they envision a bleak future ahead. As an advocate for suicide prevention, I naturally worry about this fragile population, particularly with the added layer of suffering the pandemic has created in the past year and a half.

A common trigger to sadness and anxiety is the ubiquitous pressure to be jolly and happy during the holidays; to have the perfect family, numerous friends, and of course, to be surrounded by carefully chosen presents. All this comes with a heavy toll, which can make us feel like a failure and pressured to put on a show because reality hardly ever meets these requirements.

Full disclosure: I am one of those annoying people who listens loudly to Christmas songs, sings along and dances to them around the house. I decorate my home, make plans to visit friends, bug my sister to have a huge tree for when we come over, and convince my partner to drive around the city to check the lights.

Still, at the back of my mind is the concern about those who feel the opposite, so if you are one of these individuals, here are some ideas and reflections that may help you mitigate or even avoid the blues.

I cannot miss the opportunity to debunk a long perpetuated myth about suicide because it is related to the holiday blues: Contrary to common belief, suicide rates decrease in the winter months. In the US, it peaks between March and August, therefore, during spring and summer. Now, to some suggestions:

Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash
The Holidays are also a time to nourish yourself
Source: Maddi Bazzocco/Unsplash

How to fight the holiday blues

1. Make time for yourself - No matter how busy and crazy the final days of 2020 may seem, find a few moments to be by yourself. Use the time to reflect on what is important to you. Have you lived in congruence with your values? Which plans did you leave behind and why? Any mistakes you made that can be avoided next year? What were the highlights? The answer to these questions may help clarify your priorities and can be a compass to guide you through the new year.

2. Say “no” to social events - When planning your social engagements, remember that this is actually the perfect time to say “no” to undesired invitations. Take advantage of the seasonal excuse that everyone else throws around: “Sorry, but there is so much going on right now…” Who will doubt that? Surround yourself with people who genuinely care for you. The main goal here is to give yourself space to breathe and be selective about who you will spend your time with. In case you’re wondering, this includes family, which takes me to number three.

3. Say “no” to family or at least, limit your time with them - If part of your stress comes from having to be around family members, restrict your stay with them. We have an idealized image of what family means but the reality is that they can be a major source of anxiety. Sometimes, it takes months to get over the holidays with them, so if saying “no” is out of the question, cut back on time together as much as it’s comfortable for you.

4. Pace yourself - Hoping from party to party is usually not the best way to enjoy the festivities. Try to prioritize and balance between work and personal engagements. Who do you really want to spend time with? If it helps, get your calendar, write their names on a piece of paper and choose how to fit them into your schedule. A useful tip is to avoid condensing all your energy on two or three days. When you space it out over a couple of weeks, you have the opportunity to spend quality time with those who matter most.

5. Don’t let nostalgia take over - Remembering good times from the past can be quite joyful but only to a degree. Avoid falling into the trap of believing that your past was better. Even if you are having a hard time, fixating on the earlier years will only add dark, pessimistic strokes to the image you have of the present.

6. Short on money? Find free events - How about checking out the Christmas decorations around your city? Many stores and businesses offer cultural options this time of year. It is also common for cities to have outside events, such as choirs, tree lighting ceremonies, and festivals. These are also good options for those who prefer to be alone. And if that’s your case, make the best of it. Prepare the staying home days in advance so that they can be filled with activities you enjoy: Binge TV shows, stock up on good food, get a comfortable pair of pajamas. Do your thing.

7. Take advantage of technology - If you can’t be with those you love, ask them to connect with you by video and just leave it on, so you can see what’s happening during their gatherings. You may not be physically there but you can still participate. When my sisters and I lived in separate countries, we used to Skype for hours, many times a week. We even watched TV together. This may seem odd at first, but it will decrease your sense of isolation.

Ismael Paramo/Unsplash
Volunteering creates a growing cycle of love
Source: Ismael Paramo/Unsplash

8. Boost your self-esteem by volunteering - Helping others can not only add a new perspective to your life, but it can also make you feel good about yourself. Try it.

9. Put some time aside to reconnect - Call a couple of friends or family members you have not heard from for a while. Note that I wrote “call.” Texting is great but nothing beats hearing the caring voice of a loved one.

10. Set realistic expectations for 2022 - This is the perfect time to look at what you have accomplished and what needs to change or improve in your life, but don’t go overboard. You did no exercise in 2021? Please don’t go from there to the goal of running five days a week. Be honest and kind to yourself because when you raise the bar to an unattainable level, you are just paving the way for more disappointment.

Most importantly, whatever you do, be truly present. If at a party, look people in the eyes, listen to what they say, pay attention to the music, taste the food you eat. If possible, put your phone on silent mode so that you are not tempted to look at the screen instead of living the moment.

Finally, enjoy and value what you have.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

1. Suicide rates spike in Spring, not Winter:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/suicide-rates-spike-in-spring-not-winter

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/podcasts/2021/20211105/20211105.htm

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