Watch Out for the Holiday Blues

Posted on: December 7th, 2012 by Kay Swatkowski

Celebrate the joy that friends are always giving,

Make every day a holiday

And celebrate just living.

- Amanda Bradley

 “It doesn’t really feel like Christmas.”  Have you ever experienced that let-down feeling during the holidays?  If you have, you are not unusual.

Each year we enter the holiday season filled with hopeful expectation.  Maybe this year will be the perfect Christmas.  A few more decorations on the tree and it will look like one on Pinterest.  A head start on cookie baking and the table will be laden with delightful sweets.  A little more money here.  A little more money there. Aunt Jessica will love her new gloves.  Timothy will be thrilled with new legos. Surely this year the family will get along, sing carols, play games.

Oh, expectations!  They get us every time.  And often unrealistic expectations are the cause of the holiday blues.  There are other causes for the Christmas funk. Financial stress, family conflict, recent loss, divorce and unemployment are all contributors to this mild form of depression.

Here are a few things we can do to prevent the holiday blues:

  1. Adjust expectations.  As adults,  we often reminisce about an especially meaningful childhood Christmas.  Remembering that special time can be wonderful.  Expecting a repeat performance of that wonderful moment can keep us from living in the present and taking in and appreciating the small Christmas delights around us.  Don’t expect the magical. Learn to enjoy what is. Don’t get so caught up in waiting for that special feeling that you forget to simply observe the lights, the smells, the music.
  2. Simplify. Financial stress can rob us of the joy of giving.  Accept your financial limitations and do your purchasing within those limits. Fight off the need to give the kids more this year than the last. Consider using The Three Gift Rule: One gift they want.  One gift they need.  One educational gift.
  3. Say no.  We can’t and shouldn’t attend every holiday party or dinner.  Decide in advance how many events you will attend this year and choose wisely. One a week is plenty in most cases.
  4. Do things you enjoy.  Are you energized by reading? Choose a special book to relish over the holidays.  Make reading part of your celebration.  Do you enjoy walking?  Bundle up and walk through the neighborhood to admire your neighbors Christmas lights. Winter walks can be delightful. Discover what fills your soul and don’t neglect those things during the holidays.
  5. Meditate. One of the Hebrew words for meditate also means “mutter.”  Choose something to mutter to yourself over the holidays.  You could choose  something from the nativity story in Luke.  Listen to Christmas hymns and meditate on the words.  Fill your mind with the truth about this holiday season.
  6. Set a spiritual goal.  For me, every part of Christmas is a prelude to the Christmas Eve Service at our church.  I am learning to choose to make “worship” my top priority during the season.  Corporate worship enriches the holiday season for us all.
  7. Talk it out. If you have experienced a recent loss or major change, accept the fact that your emotions will be a little confusing this year.  That is not only okay, it is important. Allow yourself to grieve, but use this time to find some healing and comfort. Deliberately set some time aside to talk with a friend or counselor, and after that meeting, determine to find one thing to enjoy in the season.
  8. Do something new.  If you are recovering from the loss of a spouse, child, friend, marriage or job, you may need to make a change in  your holiday celebrations.  Do something different.  Take the kids to a cabin or hotel for a night.  Visit a large city by train and see the lights.  Invite in friends.  Go to a soup kitchen.  Give gifts to the homeless.  Injecting something new and meaningful reminds us that life will go on and still can be good. It also helps us to “defocus” by getting our mind off of our sadness for a while.  That “defocus” allows our bodies and minds to be free from the stress for a bit and encourages a greater sense of well-being.
  9. Eat well.  Cookies. Candy. Egg nog. A thousand other goodies await us. But after our excesses,  we are often blue because we know we have gained a pound here and there.  We can feel it in our clothes. The New Year means a new diet!  Head this depression off by saying no to too many  sweets and fats. We don’t need to obsess over this because food is a wonderful part of the celebration. But, we need to make sure we are not sabotaging ourselves by overindulgence.
  10. Exercise.  Spend some time out doors.  Someone has said that looking at the sky everyday improves mental health! I have found that to be true in my life. Go outside at night and look at the starry sky or ice cold moon. Spend some time in the sun – an important part of the treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Take a walk. Walking increases endorphins which ameliorates depression.  Ride your exercise bike.  Get to the gym.  Don’t let this normal routine slip away because of holiday busyness.  Keeping up with our own self-care routine will not only lift our spirits, but leave us in better shape at the end of December than at the beginning.
Take a minute and jot down three things you can do to take good care of your body, mind, emotions and spirit this holiday season.  If you are careful to focus on the spiritual you will experience some of the joy you seek.

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