The holiday season often brings a mix of emotions like sadness and anxiety, known as the holiday blues or holiday depression. Factors like being unable to be with loved ones or facing financial issues can contribute to these feelings. November and December, the holiday months, are especially challenging, intensifying and persisting sadness even for those who usually enjoy the festivities. Many may feel overwhelmed by heightened emotions and seasonal demands.
It is important to note that individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions may face additional challenges during this time. Research suggests that approximately 64% of individuals with such conditions report that the holidays exacerbate their symptoms.
This comprehensive guide aims to look into the causes of holiday blues, provide insights on recognizing the symptoms, explore treatment options, and offer coping strategies. Additionally, we will discuss the role of therapy and counselling in combating the holiday blues.
What Are Holiday Blues?
The term ‘Holiday Blues’ refers to a temporary state of emotional distress experienced by individuals during or after the holiday season. It comprises sadness, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, overshadowing the expected joy of this festive period. Unlike occasional sorrow or stress, the holiday season blues persist, impacting daily life and warranting recognition and empathy. Acknowledging and addressing this phenomenon can create a more compassionate and inclusive environment during this cherished time of the year.
Factors such as shopping, social events, and the pressure to have a good holiday can contribute to stress. Additionally, feelings of missing loved ones or negative memories from past holidays can resurface. These circumstances may lead to insufficient nutrition and a lack of motivation for physical activity. Although the holiday blues can be associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), they are separate conditions. While the holiday blues are generally less severe than depression, seeking support can be beneficial. If initiating a conversation feels challenging, tips for talking to someone can assist.
Distinguishing between Holiday Blues and SAD
Holiday blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are two distinct emotional experiences that correlate with specific times of the year. Typically, the winter season brings forth these emotional challenges through holiday blues and SAD. Here are some distinguishing factors between Holiday Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
- Feelings of sadness, stress, fatigue, irritability, loneliness, and anxiety during the holiday.
- Often triggered by societal pressures, grief, family gatherings, or unrealistic expectations.
- Typically, it lasts throughout November and December, coinciding with the holiday season.
- It can affect anyone, even those who usually enjoy the holidays.
- It does not necessarily require medical treatment – self-care, social support, and stress management can help.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- A type of depression that occurs during the winter months
- Symptoms include low mood, lack of energy, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Caused by a lack of sunlight in fall and winter and changes in circadian rhythm
- Typically lasts from fall to early spring, resolving in spring or summer
- Requires medical treatment, such as light therapy or antidepressants
- It is more common in women and those living farther from the equator
It is important to recognize that although Holiday Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) share some similarities, they are distinct conditions necessitating different treatment approaches. If you are encountering depressive symptoms in the winter season, it is imperative to consult with a healthcare professional to identify the most suitable course of action.
Causes of Holiday Blues
Holiday blues, also known as post-holiday blues, can be caused by various factors. The abrupt end of holiday festivities and the return to routine can trigger feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and letdown. Additionally, the contrast between the joyous holiday atmosphere and the realities of everyday life can contribute to these emotions. Various factors responsible for causing holiday blues include the following:
- Increased Stress: The pressure to meet societal expectations, financial strain, and the demands of holiday preparations can contribute to heightened stress levels.
- Loss and Grief: During holidays, the absence of loved ones may promote feelings of grief and loss, intensifying sadness and nostalgia, particularly for those who have lost significant individuals.
- Social Isolation: The holiday season’s reduced social interactions may lead to increased loneliness and isolation, particularly for individuals lacking close family or friends who may experience exclusion during gatherings and celebrations.
- Changes in routine: Changes in regular routines, such as alterations in work schedules or sleep patterns, can affect mental well-being by contributing to feelings or discomfort resulting from a lack of structure.
- Financial Stress: Increased expenditures on gifts, decorations, and travel may result in financial strain, while worries about budgeting and debt can contribute to heightened anxiety and stress throughout the holiday season.
- Overcommitment and Burnout: Overextending oneself by attempting to fulfill social obligations, attend numerous events, and manage additional responsibilities may lead to burnout, causing physical and emotional exhaustion and adversely affecting overall well-being.
- Family Conflict: Increased stress and discomfort may spoil holiday gatherings as increased time spent with family members aggravates unresolved issues and family dynamics.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Unrealistic holiday expectations, influenced by media depictions and societal expectations, may result in disappointment and feelings of inadequacy when compared to idealized images of perfect celebrations.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): The onset of SAD, a form of depression characterized by symptoms like low energy and mood changes, can be influenced by reduced sunlight and weather changes, often coinciding with the holiday season.
- Seasonal Changes: The shorter days and colder weather associated with the holiday season can also affect one’s mood.
Signs and Symptoms
While the holidays often evoke joy, it’s essential to acknowledge that not everyone shares in the festive spirit. Understanding holiday season blues is the initial step in dealing with the issue. Recognizing these early on allows for timely intervention. While the signs and symptoms of holiday blues may differ from person to person, common signs include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness: Amidst the holiday cheer, a constant emptiness lingers, casting shadows of sorrow.
- Increased stress: Holiday blues escalate stress amid festive expectations and real-life pressures.
- Fatigue or lack of energy: Amid holiday blues, energy wanes, succumbing to a pervasive fatigue.
- Increased irritability or agitation: Within holiday festivities, a surge in irritability subtly hints at seasonal blues.
- Withdrawal from social activities: Seasonal blues intensify with social withdrawal, dimming the festive atmosphere.
- Changes in appetite and sleep patterns: Holiday blues can alter appetite and sleep, subtly impacting well-being.
- Physical symptoms: Holiday blues may bring physical symptoms like headaches and muscle tension, affecting overall well-being.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: Holiday blues may disrupt concentration and decision-making due to heightened emotional stressors.
- Financial issues: Financial struggles during the holidays can amplify the seasonal blues, limiting festive participation.
- Unrealistic expectations: Holiday expectations intensify the blues by clashing idealized visions with the season’s reality.
- Nostalgia: Holiday blues evoke nostalgic reflections on cherished memories, imparting a bittersweet tone to the present.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): SAD is a seasonal form of depression, typically striking in fall and winter due to reduced sunlight.
While there is an overlap between causes and risk factors, the distinction lies in whether the factor is a specific event or cause or a personal characteristic or condition that increases the risk factor. Risk factors refer to characteristics or conditions that increase the likelihood or vulnerability of developing holiday blues. These factors may not directly cause the disease but contribute to an increased risk. Factors that increase an individual’s susceptibility to experiencing holiday blues may include:
- Personal history of mental health conditions
- Personal loss
- Lack of social support
- High expectations
- Health issues
- High levels of stress
- Recent life changes
- Substance abuse
Diagnosing holiday blues involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, considering symptoms like low mood, changes in appetite or sleep, feelings of hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. The assessment also includes checking for underlying mental health conditions and determining the duration and intensity of symptoms. Healthcare providers use screening tools and questionnaires to aid in diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or other forms of depression.
It is essential to seek guidance from healthcare professionals or mental health providers for an accurate diagnosis. They can assess whether the emotions are temporary or indicative of a more urgent mental health issue. If you or someone you know is confronting symptoms of holiday blues, reaching out to a healthcare professional is a positive step toward improving mental well-being during the holiday season.
Holiday Blues Treatment and Management
While holiday blues are generally short-term or transient feelings of sadness, stress, or loneliness, several treatment and management strategies can help individuals cope with these emotions. Effective treatment and management of holiday blues involve the combination of the following methods:
- Acknowledging and validating feelings
- Practicing self-care
- Setting realistic expectations
- Focussing on meaningful activities
- Seeking social support
- Limiting alcohol and substance use
- Getting sunlight exposure
- Counselling and professional therapy
- Maintaining a healthy sleep routine
- Getting professional help
- Managing time effectively
Holiday Blues Coping Strategies
Coping with holiday blues involves implementing various strategies to manage and shrink symptoms. The coping techniques aim to improve overall well-being and enhance one’s ability to negotiate the challenges of the holiday season. Here are some effective coping strategies for combating the holiday blues:
- Set healthy boundaries
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- Share your feelings with family and friends
- Create new traditions
- Volunteer your time to help others
- Stay active
- Engage in enjoyable activities
- Maintain healthy lifestyle
- Plan and budget your holiday wisely
Supporting Others Dealing with Holiday Blues
Empathy and understanding are key for those supporting individuals with holiday blues. If you know someone dealing with holiday blues, here are some ways you can offer support:
- Encourage open communication
- Offer a helping hand
- Spend time with them to provide companionship
- Be mindful of their emotional well-being
- Listen non-judgmentally
- Encourage professional help
Impact on Different Age Groups and Demographics
Holiday blues can affect individuals of all ages regardless of their backgrounds or demographics. Recognizing the diverse ways holiday blues can appear among different groups enables the implementation of more precise assistance and intervention strategies. However, certain populations may be more susceptible to this disorder due to specific circumstances:
Students and young adults:
- May experience loneliness or isolation when they cannot spend the holidays with family or friends.
- May undergo financial stress as a result of expectations related to giving gifts.
- May feel pressure to create an ideal holiday experience, potentially resulting in feelings of anxiety or depression.
- May feel overburdened by the tasks associated with holiday preparations, including cooking, shopping, and decorating.
- May face financial strain due to expenditures on gifts and additional holiday-related costs.
- May experience pressure to craft a memorable holiday for their children, resulting in feelings of stress and anxiety.
- May experience isolation or loneliness if they cannot spend the holidays with their family or friends.
- May undergo grief or sorrow if they have experienced the loss of loved ones during the holiday season.
- May encounter challenges in holiday preparations due to mobility issues or other health concerns.
People with mental health conditions:
- May have intense symptoms due to the stress and demands associated with the holiday season.
- May feel overwhelmed by social events and gatherings, leading to feelings of anxiety or panic.
- May face challenges coping with emotions of sadness or grief, especially if they have lost loved ones during the holiday season.
People from different cultural or religious backgrounds:
- May experience a feeling of exclusion or isolation when their cultural or religious traditions are not recognized or represented during the holiday season.
- May battle with conflicting emotions when attempting to harmonize their traditions with those of their family or community.
- May experience pressure to adhere to conventional holiday norms, resulting in feelings of stress or anxiety.
Role of Therapy and Counselling
Holiday seasons often correlate with joy and celebration. They bring about a range of emotions, including holiday blues. It is normal for an individual to feel stressed or empty or to tackle high expectations. Ultimately, these feelings hit them hard with an ailment known as holiday blues. Therapy and counselling play an essential role in addressing holiday blues by providing individuals with the necessary support and tools to manipulate the emotional challenges that can arise during the holiday season.
Therapy and counselling are extremely beneficial to beat the holiday blues as they provide support and coping mechanisms to face challenges during the holiday season.
Benefits of seeking counselling for Holiday Blues
Benefits of seeking counselling and therapy may include, but are not limited to:
- Emotional support: Therapists offer a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss and explore emotions related to holiday blues.
- Coping strategies: Therapists help individuals identify the underlying causes of their holiday blues and develop coping strategies.
- Exploration of triggers: Therapy helps pinpoint and beat the holiday blues triggers, guiding individuals to develop management strategies.
- Goal setting and planning: Counselling sets achievable goals, facilitates accomplishment, and guides value-aligned activities for a positive holiday experience.
- Building social support: Therapists enhance social support, aiding meaningful connections to combat isolation and emphasize the importance of relationships during the holidays.
- Mindfulness and self-care: Therapeutic interventions promote well-being with mindfulness and self-care, boundary-setting, and healthy communication during the holiday season.
Contact Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre
Are the holiday blues emotionally distressing you? Don’t let the festive season tone down your spirits. At Thrive Downtown, Vancouver Counselling Centre, we understand the emotional challenges that can arise during this time of year, and we’re just a call away to offer help!
Our experienced therapists and counsellors specialize in supporting and guiding people who are fighting the pangs of holiday blues. With a secure and non-judgmental environment, we’ll help you explore your emotions, identify the underlying causes of your blues, and develop effective coping measures.
Don’t let the holiday season get the best of you.
Contact Us today to Book A Free Consultation and take the initiative towards reclaiming your joy and well-being.
Holiday Blues FAQs
Is holiday stress a thing?
Yes, holiday stress is real because people often feel more pressure with gift-giving, social events, and family matters during the holidays. Taking care of yourself and finding a balance can help you handle this stress.
Why are the holidays hard on mental health?
Holidays can be hard on mental health because they bring more stress and social pressures and can make feelings of loneliness or sadness worse. The expectation to be happy during this time can cause anxiety and depression, which are more difficult for some people.
Is Christmas blues a real thing?
Yes, Christmas depression is real; some people feel sad or stressed during the holidays due to unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, or social isolation. It can make the festive season challenging for them.
Is it normal to cry after a holiday?
Yes, it is normal to cry after a holiday experiencing post-holiday blues. Returning to everyday life can arouse emotions like sadness and nostalgia, making you miss the good times. Taking care of yourself and remembering happy moments can make you feel better.
What is post holiday blues at work?
Post-vacation blues at work describe employees’ sadness, stress, or fatigue when they return to work after a holiday or vacation. It’s a common response to the shift from a more relaxed, enjoyable break to the routine and demands of the workplace.
Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.