Managing Holiday Blues

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  Really?

Surely you’ve heard that lyric. It’s the title of the ever popular Christmas song Andy Williams first recorded in 1963. Since then, many notable crooners have regaled us with their renditions–Johnny Mathis, Harry Connick Jr., Patti LaBelle, Garth Brooks, and the Pentatonix–celebrating many of the activities associated with the Winter Holiday Season: “…parties for hosting…marshmallows for toasting…caroling out in the snow…gay happy meetings…holiday greetings…friends coming to call…”

If your spirit soars as Thanksgiving nears and you remain high on the holidays through New Year’s, good for you.  Enjoy yourself to the max! You deserve it. We all do.

But for too many people, those six weeks are filled with angst and overwhelm. Some dread the added expense and responsibilities  involved in throwing a party, grocery and present shopping, wrapping and sending out gifts, mailing cards, prepping and serving food, polishing the silver and dusting off the good china, thoroughly cleaning the house, attending school festivities, office parties, and religious functions. And the list goes on…

Others fear riding a rollercoaster of positive and negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions (triggered by remembering days gone by or anticipating what’s to come) that leaves them exhausted by the time they get off it and resume everyday life.

For those spending the holidays alone or with relatives they rarely see and don’t particularly like, what was supposed to be a winter vacation (out of school, home on leave, or on a brief hiatus from work) can seem more like being in lockdown, doing hard time and counting the days til they’re sprung. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But for some, maybe not.

Coping with Holiday Seasonal Affective Disorder (HSAD)

You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It’s a type of depression that starts in the late Fall/early Winter months and departs by Spring or Summer.  What I’m calling “Holiday Seasonal Affective Disorder” falls smack dab in that time frame with those afflicted experiencing many of the same symptoms: sadness, feeling  grumpy, lethargic and downhearted, craving carbs and more sleep.  For SAD sufferers, one of the most common treatments is light therapy to replace the sunshine lost during those months.  For those with HSAD, exposure to Christmas or Hanukkah lights should help.

Here are some other strategies to combat HSAD and lift your spirits:

  1. Right after Halloween, take the pages for November and December out of a  large commemorative calendar and post them in a convenient location, e.g. on a bulletin board in the kitchen or by your desk in the study.  As soon as you commit to an event during those months, mark it on the calendar in RED LETTERS.  Consult the calendar often to avoid conflicts and overbooking.  This will give you a sense of organization and keeping control of your time.
  2. Create a holiday slush fund. In a piggy bank on your dresser or a coffee can in the kitchen, deposit your spare change or small bills starting the first week of January for the following year.  Open a savings account for that slush fund, and periodically deposit what you’ve collected.  You’ll be delighted with so much extra cash by the time Black Friday rolls around.  Be sure to spend at least some of it on an indulgence for yourself.
  3. When you start feeling so stressed out that you want to run away from it all, give yourself permission to gracefully turn down invitations  (for whatever reason) and offer an alternative get-together during January instead.  Once a week, treat yourself to a massage, a walk or bike ride by the ocean, a funny movie, an afternoon nap, or some other favorite pastime.
  4. For parties or socials where you are in charge, offload small tasks to participants such as co-workers, family members, relatives and friends whenever possible and offer them the opportunity to call on you for help when they are in charge.
  5. Where possible, stretch your holiday budget with some gifts you make or bake, and favors you do or assistance you give. Send holiday ecards and gift cards (kids prefer them, so they can buy what they really want) to save time as well as money.
  6. If alone on the holidays, volunteer some of your time helping those less fortunate serving meals, visiting retirement homes, hospitals, etc. And by all means take advantage of the freedom to focus on yourself and your desires by doing the things you love to do but don’t when the gang is around, such aseating your favorite foods, taking baths for as long as you want, bingeing on your favorite tv programs, staying in your pajamas all day
  7. Visit long distance with friends or family across the country or the world using Skype or Facetime.
  8. During the six-week holiday period, if pressed for time, cut down if you must, but don’t stop going to the gym, attending support group meetings, therapy sessions, journalling, meditating, praying, doing self-hypnosis, affirming your good, expressing gratitude for all that you have.
  9. If you are on a weight loss program, give yourself a break by aiming for maintenance during the holidays and resuming the program afterwards.  By making sure you drink lots of water and eat healthy amounts of lean protein and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables before going to parties and events where rich foods and alchohol are served, you can be satisfied nibbling on treats while avoiding the temptation to pig out.
  10. Take one day at a time.  Be present in the now.  Speak lovingly to yourself.  And remind yourself that your bout of HSAD will pass.