The holiday season is billed as a festive and joyful time of year to celebrate and be with family and friends. But for many, it can be overwhelming and even lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression—sometimes referred to as the “holiday blues.”
The holiday blues are common, and although different from mental illness, should be taken seriously. There are many reasons why people might experience stress and sadness between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, including a lack of sleep and downtime, unrealistic expectations, financial stress, isolation and grief, and anxiety about the new year ahead.
Fortunately, there are ways you can address these concerns and ensure that you are taking care of yourself during the holiday season.
Get enough sleep, schedule downtime, and nourish yourself
A hectic holiday schedule, with frequent travel or many social obligations to fulfill, can lead to exhaustion and a lack of sleep, which increases stress. There can also be pressure to wrap things up at school or work during this time. Some people turn to unhealthy coping strategies, such as disordered eating or using substances, to handle these feelings, often making them worse.
It is always important to prioritize your emotional health and well-being. Remember to take time for self-care and ensure that you are getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious foods. It’s okay to take a break from—or say no to—social gatherings, make time for hobbies you enjoy, and connect with what is most important to you about the holidays.
It is okay to trust yourself and set and stick to boundaries that make sense for you.
Take a break from social media and set realistic expectations
Holidays are often seen as a cheerful time, which creates pressure for things to be “perfect” and leads to disappointment if they’re not. It’s especially easy to compare ourselves to others during this time as we scroll through social media and think other people’s lives and families are perfect. We might assume everyone around us is happy, and we’re the odd one out.
Being too connected to our phones, computers, and devices can put our brains on overload. Set boundaries for yourself to look at your phone less, and avoid screens before bedtime, so it’s easier to fall asleep.
Slow down and breathe
It’s easy to get sucked into multitasking when you have a lot of things to cross off your to-do list. Whether you’re sipping your favorite hot beverage or folding laundry, try shifting your attention to just what you’re doing at the moment. Getting grounded in where you are at any given time can help you feel less overwhelmed.
When we experience stress, we also sometimes hold our breath, meaning less oxygen gets to the brain. When you take the time to focus on your breathing, it sends a signal to your nervous system that everything is ok and that helps calm down any stress we’re feeling. Check out breathing exercises you can use anytime.
Call a loved one and connect
If you’re not able to spend time with loved ones for whatever reason—or you are spending time with your family, but wish you could be with your chosen family, remember that you can always connect with people over the phone. That can help you feel less alone if you’re not close to your family or if spending time with them often leads to conflict.
Whether you are feeling isolated, stressed, or any other difficult emotion, keeping it bottled in only makes it worse. Being able to vent to a trusted friend or family member can help you calm down and get perspective. Instead of texting, connect by phone — hearing a familiar voice can be calming and comforting.
Acknowledge your grief
For people grieving the loss of a loved one, it can sometimes feel like the rest of the world has forgotten and moved on from something that was very painful for you. If it’s your first holiday without them, these feelings can be incredibly strong.
If you are grieving this time of year, realize that the holidays may look different going forward. You may feel a variety of emotions—upset that your loved one is gone, guilty over a lack of “holiday cheer,” a desire to continue old traditions or let them go. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or celebrate, and your grief matters whether you feel sad or find joy during this time.
Move your body
Movement gets the blood flowing and brings your attention to the present moment (instead of worrying about the past or future). It doesn’t have to be a long run, but it should be something you enjoy, even if it’s just dancing to your favorite playlist in your room.
Taking the time to sit down and simply follow your breath can bring you into the moment and help you feel connected. Here are easy steps you can follow to meditate:
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Don’t try and control your breath; just let your breath flow naturally.
- Focus your attention on the breath, observing the inhalation and exhalation. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the breath.
- Spend 5 minutes with this practice.