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Navigating the Holiday Blues

Navigating the Holiday Blues

With Executive Director of Behavioral Health Services Terry Cassidy

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… until it’s not. While the holiday season is a time of goodwill and great cheer for many, it can also be a challenging time for those dealing with the holiday blues. We spoke with Sarasota Memorial’s  Executive Director of Behavioral Health Services, Terry Cassidy, to learn more about where the holiday blues come from and how to keep them at bay.

What are the holiday blues?

The holiday blues are ongoing or recurring feelings of sadness and stress experienced throughout the holiday season. Intensity may vary and the feelings may ebb and flow, but the experience is short-lived and contained to the holiday season, unlike chronic depression. Importantly, the holiday blues is not a mental illness. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Signs include:

  • Sadness/feelings of loneliness and loss
  • Irritability/anxiousness/difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue/insomnia/low energy
  • Changes in eating/sleeping habits

What causes the holiday blues?

As the holiday season approaches, our senses are bombarded from all sides with sights, sounds and smells that have the ability to bring powerful memories to the surface. Between cookies baking and turkeys cooking, holiday music playing and familiar decorations going up, your brain is working overtime to make all the connections it can—and your brain doesn’t always distinguish between happy memories and sad memories.

This is why those who are alone on the holidays or those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may find themselves very susceptible to the holiday blues. “Even if it’s not a recent loss,” says Cassidy, “it’s somebody who’s not there, who had been there.”

But it’s not all about memory and grief. The holiday season also sees people taking on a lot of extra stress and worry, which can lead to the holiday blues. “You’re making your lists, you’re thinking of all the people you want to please, all the gifts you need to buy, the food you’re bringing to parties, all of these demands on your budget,” says Cassidy, “and you’re wondering if you can get through, if you can please the people you love.”

It's a lot to deal with for anyone and can sometimes be overwhelming. But there are coping strategies for dealing with the holiday blues or avoiding them altogether.

Coping strategies for the holiday blues

“Coping with the holiday blues comes down to really being tuned into yourself and recognizing what triggers you,” says Cassidy. “Then set limits for yourself, keep to your routines and try not to overindulge in alcohol or food.”

Here are a few simple and effective strategies for dealing with the holiday blues:

  • Moderate your alcohol intake – Alcohol is a depressant and excess drinking can contribute to the holiday blues.
  • Don’t isolate yourself – Being around family and friends, even just for a few minutes or over the phone, can help elevate mood.
  • Exercise – Regular physical activity can do wonders for the mood, as well as give a sense of accomplishment.
  • Set your boundaries – There may be a lot of demands on your time and energy, but it’s perfectly OK and absolutely healthy to say ‘no’ sometimes. Don’t overextend and stress yourself out.
  • Set realistic expectations – You may feel pressure to make your holiday celebration look like something out of the movies or feel just like it did when you were a child, but unrealistic expectations lead to stress and disappointment. Instead, be gentle with yourself and enjoy the moment.

Is it more than the holiday blues?

Clinical depression is a serious medical illness and should not be confused with the holiday blues. It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic circumstance, and it can be life-threatening when it progresses to thoughts of self-harm.

While warning signs and symptoms vary, depression changes how a person functions day-to-day, and episodes typically last at least 2 weeks. The most common symptoms include:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns, including sleeping too little or too much
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Restlessness of irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, take advantage of available resources and connect with professionals who can help. An easy way to get started asking for help is to use the online depression screening tool from Mental Health America (MHA). It’s free, anonymous, confidential and convenient. Click here to check it out.

For more information about outpatient mental health services at Sarasota Memorial, clinical assessment or help with physician referrals or finding community resources, call 941-917-2660.

In a medical emergency or crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8.

Posted: Nov 28, 2023,
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