The “holiday blues” … a bit of an oxymoron, no, given our emphasis on “holiday cheer?” Yet many people will tell you that it’s all too real.
My name is Dr. Jonathan Kandell, and I’m a psychologist and Director of USG’s Center for Counseling and Consultation. The holiday blues, unfortunately, are a pretty common occurrence in our society. The way I see it, there are at least two psychological factors that contribute to “holiday blues.” First, there are the natural cycles of the world as winter begins. Winter is the season that symbolizes death (with rebirth occurring in Spring), people are continually reminded of endings, and the sadness they can bring, including the falling leaves, dying plants, cooler temperatures, and perhaps most importantly, less sunshine. Sunshine has been shown to produce Vitamin D in people, and lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression. Most people feel the lack of sunshine to some extent, but some people are more sensitive and may develop Seasonal Affective Disorder at these times.
A second factor contributing to the holiday blues has more to do with people than Mother Nature. Although the holidays can be a joyful time of reconnecting with loved ones near and far, businesses and popular media have created a set of expectations that even the most joyful group can’t achieve. To start, some people are unable to be with their loved ones during the holidays. They may not be able to make it to the gathering place, or they may not feel connected enough to anyone to be invited. For these people, it can be painful to watch others enjoying the company of others, especially when it’s a false, idealized version.
Those who are able to make it “home,” whether with family or friends, can find their happiness interrupted by the emergence of long-simmering conflicts. Some families, and even groups of friends, may get along better when there is the physical and psychological space available to take a “break,” if needed. Getting together for the holidays, particularly when in relatively tight surroundings, can lead to stress, awkward conversations, and even the eruption of old anger and bitterness. While the stress of reconnecting with others is real, even with people you very much want to see, the results can be especially disappointing if you are expecting the perfection you see on TV.
If some of the words above remind you of your own situation, all is not lost. Here are a few tips to make it through the holidays and leave the blues behind:
- Take Vitamin D capsules each day to maintain the needed level in your system.
- Go outside, get what sun you can, and engage in exercise (even a walk) while out there.
- Keep calm and prepare yourself for the stress of the holidays, especially holiday gatherings.
- If you know a gathering will be highly stressful, pretend you are an anthropologist. Study the people and environment rather than getting caught up in the dynamics.
- Don’t be disappointed because others aren’t mind readers. If you really want a particular gift, tell someone, or get it for yourself.
- Most important — don’t get caught up in trying to make everything perfect! It won’t (and can’t) be.
Peace and joy for the holiday season!