The holiday season is often considered a time full of joy and celebration. But for some, it can be a period of painful reflection, seasonal depression, anxiety, loneliness, and more. Even people who enjoy the holiday season can experience heavy emotions during this time. And while most people have time off work, school, and other obligations, the holidays can still be emotionally and physically demanding.
Countless individuals across the UK and Ireland experience what’s often referred to as the “holiday blues,” which can make the season a very challenging time of year. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of the holiday blues, along with how you can work to remedy these challenging and heavy emotions during the holidays.
What Are the Holiday Blues?
The holiday blues are often associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it’s important to note that the two are not directly correlated. A person experiencing the holiday blues can also have SAD. People with SAD experience symptoms of depression throughout the fall and winter, as these seasons often have less sunlight during the daytime.
The holiday blues share several of the same characteristic symptoms of anxiety and mood disorders: irritability, insomnia, low energy, anxiousness, and difficulty concentrating. But unlike clinical depression, the distress experienced is often short-lived rather than long-term.
Symptoms associated with the holiday blues are typically not as severe as depression and can often be helped by seeking support. If you’re having a tough time starting a conversation with a close friend or loved one, The SilverCloud® platform offers a discrete and evidence-based online mental health platform for individuals struggling with the holiday blues, it is available for free with referral from your GP, therapist or on select Health Plans so worth checking with your health insurer.
Understanding the Causes for Seasonal Depression
Balancing the demands of family obligations, house guests, holiday shopping, social events, and more can often contribute to the holiday blues. Even further, because the holiday season marks an impending new year, people often reflect on the past year and experience feelings of failure or regret. Overall, there are a variety of reasons why people may experience holiday depression.
Other possible causes of the holiday blues include:
- Lack of Sleep: Hectic holiday schedules often lead to a lack of sleep, which can exacerbate stress.
- Financial Strain and Stress: Financially overextending yourself or struggling to afford gifts can create added burdens of financial stress.
- Excess Food and Alcohol Use: People can sometimes use unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage holiday sadness. Excessive eating and drinking can worsen symptoms.
- Loneliness and Isolation: An inability to spend the holidays with friends and family can make this time very lonely.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Overcommercializing the holiday season can create unrealistic expectations and standards for everyone to feel nonstop joy and cheer.
Common Signs and Symptoms of the Holiday Blues
The most common symptom of the holiday blues is a recurring feeling of sadness that begins during the holiday season. These emotions may vary in intensity and duration. Other common signs of holiday depression include:
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Increased feelings of irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Loss of pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy
- Experiencing worry and anxiousness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Changes in sleep patterns
Tips for Coping With Seasonal Depression and the Holiday Blues
In many cases, seasonal depression can be managed through social support and lifestyle changes. Unless diagnosed with major depression, doctors often won’t prescribe medications to treat the holiday blues. While symptoms are often short-term, speaking with a mental health professional can help. Alongside therapy, there’s also proven significant benefit in utilizing a digital mental health platform that can help you identify negative thinking patterns and replace those thoughts with more helpful ones. This approach is known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
In addition to consulting with a doctor and mental health professional, one can take various practices to remediate symptoms associated with the holiday blues.
Practice Moderation in Alcohol Intake
Alcohol is a depressant, so excessive drinking can further negative thought patterns and feelings.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
If possible, it can help you to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones, as social isolation can pose a major risk for depression. If you can’t be around others for the holidays, reaching out and speaking with those you love is also important.
Remain Active and Perform Exercises You Enjoy
While it can be difficult to stick to any exercise routine during the holidays, research has shown that regular physical activity can play a critical role in preventing and lessening symptoms of depression. Even a casual activity like going for a brief walk can prove helpful.
Stand Firm in Your Boundaries
The holiday season often entails people reaching out for your help, time, resources, and more. Holiday parties can turn into demanding and stressful obligations. Small favors can morph into massive projects. Practice setting boundaries and upholding them when they’re tested.
Set Realistic Expectations
Sometimes we get lost in the stress and demands of the holidays that we forget traditions are what we make them. Holidays change as people change, and holding onto unrealistic expectations can lead to unnecessary stress and resentment. The key is to focus on building connections, creating new traditions, and enjoying the present moment with those you love.
Seeking Help for Symptoms Associated With the Holiday Blues
Just as the seasons change and fluctuate, so will our emotions. That said, it’s important to recognize symptoms of the holiday blues as they arise and work to take actionable steps toward treatment. Along with practicing the tips mentioned above, seeking mental health support through a virtual and evidence-based platform can help you sustain a healthier wellbeing long-term.
SilverCloud® is a digital platform offering accessible, scalable, and digital mental and behavioural health programmes that are unique to your specific needs. If you’re struggling with the holiday blues and would like to feel empowered in your journey towards improving your wellbeing, learn more about our mental health programmes and wellbeing programmes, or speak to your GP about gaining your own access, all access to programmes require a referral from a GP, therapist or via select health plans.