How to Handle the Holiday Blues

Tips for dodging an unhappy holiday

Posted Dec 09, 2010

Many people feel sad and lonely during the holiday season so try not to feel that you're the only one who is not having fun or that something is wrong with you for feeling unhappy. You are not alone.

In fact, many people experience the holidays as a very stressful time of year with family obligations and social commitments coupled with financial pressure. What's more, it's a colder and darker time of the year, especially in the North East, which can easily put a damper on many people's mood. Indeed, for some, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) can seriously intensify the holiday blues.

So what is one to do? How can you overcome depression during the holiday season?

First, try not to feel bad about feeling bad. Remember, many people feel unhappy during the holidays and there is nothing unusual or wrong about feeling sad during the holiday season.

Second, exercise! Many studies have proven that regular exercise has the same effect on mood (and even brain chemistry) as prescription antidepressants.

Next, keep alcohol use to a minimum because, just like exercise has been proven to be a powerful antidepressant, alcohol has been shown to be a potent depressant. Of course, if you're not coping with a true clinical depression, an occasional glass of eggnog, wine, or champagne is probably alright.

Similarly, have some holiday treats but don't use the season as an excuse to binge or over-indulge or you might intensify your unhappiness with a dollop of guilt or shame. In fact, by making healthy food choices you'll very likely perk up your mood because a part of your mind (what some psychologists call the self-reflective ego) will be pleased with your sensible behavior and reward you with a feeling of self-satisfaction and pride.

Likewise, within financial reason, do something special for yourself - get a massage, a facial, a new pair of shoes, a piece of art, that cool gadget you've been wanting, etc.

Moreover, consider volunteering some time at a soup kitchen or a food pantry. Despite feeling poorly, for the reasons I've stated above, acts of kindness usually improve mood and self-appreciation. (As I often tell my therapy clients, "The head and the heart follow the feet" which is a down-to-earth distillation of the central tenet of cognitive-behavior therapy that posits how we act so shall we think and feel.)

In addition, don't feel obligated to buy a lot of gifts; just small, inexpensive items for the fewest number of people. Or, instead of buying presents at all, hand write a special holiday card expressing your unique, genuine love and gratitude for some of the most special people in your life.

Also, stay connected socially, but it's okay to say "no" to various invitations without feeling guilty. Remember, while it's good to be considerate to friends and family, it is most important to do what will be best for you even if that means passing on some get-togethers. And always keep in mind, when you do attend some gatherings, that many other people are not having the time of their lives so try not to believe that you are the only one who is not having a blast.

Finally, consider light therapy if you have a problem with SAD. If this applies to you, it is very important to discuss the matter with a qualified healthcare professional so you don't fall for cheap, imitation light sources or try the method if it is not clinically indicated.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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This post is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.

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