Thwart holiday blues with simple, proactive steps

For many people the holidays are defined not only by feelings of joy and celebration, but also by feelings of anxiety and depression. “Holiday blues can result from feelings of stress, overcommitment, and feelings of loneliness that creep up during the busy holiday season,” said Dr. Laura Howe-Martin, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

She offers some tips to help reduce the likelihood of suffering from the “holiday blues.”

1. Keep it meaningful. Center your activities around those that are meaningful for you during the holidays, and maintain your focus on its meaning. Also, volunteering and helping others in greater need has the potential to lift you up tremendously.

2. Create a budget and stick to it… as much as possible! Holiday stress is often caused by the pressure to buy too much, and then having to pay the consequences in January and the following months. Creating and maintaining a realistic and complete budget for your household can help prevent and alleviate that source of stress.

3. Say yes and mean it (and say no and mean it!). Limit overcommitment to social activities and obligations. Share responsibilities whenever possible, and allow yourself to say no (perhaps to that third cookie exchange party if it requires you to stay up baking until 2 a.m. the night before).

4. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. Yes, this is the time of holiday cheer. However, alcohol can actually worsen symptoms of depression, not to mention complicate other medical conditions and interfere with good sleep quality.

5. Try to maintain a routine. This means sticking to a (relatively) healthy diet, maintaining your exercise regimen, and engaging in good sleep hygiene habits whenever possible.

6. Increase healthy forms of social support. Seek out others in your life with whom you have healthy relationships. Extended family gatherings can sometimes be extremely stressful. If that is the case for you, carve out time for other relationships that are less taxing. Also, consider returning to counseling briefly during this period of time or attending a support group.

7. Seek help from your doctor or a qualified mental health professional if you are concerned about depression, not just “holiday blues.” Symptoms of depression include prolonged feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, feelings of worthlessness, loss of energy or appetite, sleep problems, difficulties with concentration or attention, feeling slowed down or agitated, and increased thoughts of death or suicide. Many effective treatments exist for depression, including the type of depression that seems to worsen during winter months.

Learn more about UT Southwestern's clinical services in mental health.

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