The holidays are usually viewed as a time for joyous gatherings, merriment with friends and family, good cheer, and abundant generosity. Right?
Well, perhaps. Not everyone welcomes the holiday season with the jolliness of Old Saint Nick. It may be a time of sadness, painful reflection, loneliness, anxiety, and depression for some people.
Even people who love holidays can experience difficulties during this busy season. People with pre-existing mental health conditions are more likely to experience depression during the holidays. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with pre-existing mental illness report that holidays make their condition worse 1. Holiday blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder, are feelings of stress or depression that occur during the holiday and winter season.
Causes of Holiday Blues
Researchers have yet to find out the specific causes for SAD (seasonal affective disorder), also referred to as the holiday blues. However, they do acknowledge that several factors play an important role in the development of the disease.
The reduction in sunlight in winter can disturb the natural biological clock. It also reduces the levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates our mood) and melatonin (a chemical that regulates sleep and behavior).
The holiday blues can also be triggered by several other factors, including unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, or the inability to be with families and loved ones during the holidays. The increased demands of the pandemic, shopping, parties, family reunions, and houseguests can also contribute to these anxious feelings. Even those who do not become depressed can experience various stress reactions during the holidays, such as headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and difficulties sleeping.
Types of Holiday Blues
There are two different types of holiday blues. The first type affects those who are alone. These people may have no close relatives or friends and feel abandoned during the holidays.
The second type of holiday blues occurs during family gatherings. These reunions can create repetitions of dysfunctional family relationships that have existed for years. If an event or experience triggers a trauma, the person re-experiences the same emotions that happened before. This type of holiday blues is therefore not about being alone but trapped in the old trauma. Entire families can be affected by this type, and people begin to react automatically, creating wild negative emotions.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder/Holiday Blues
Changes in sleep schedule
Loss of appetite
Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Feeling tense, worried, or anxious
Feelings of despair and gloom
Lack of enthusiasm and energy
Decreased Sexual Urge
Suicidal or Death Thoughts
If you are experiencing these symptoms, especially during holidays and winter, it's time to beat holiday blues by following the below-mentioned techniques.
Keeping the blues away
Holiday blues can be managed with something as simple as getting enough rest. People often do not sleep during the holidays. Lack of sleep can cause cloudy thoughts and irritability. It can also interfere with your ability to cope with daily stress. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and exercising can reduce blues. Additionally, many have discovered that authentic worship and prayer provide rest for your mind, body, and spirit. Remember the invitation given in Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message Bible: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” In God’s presence is the fullness of joy and embracing the unforced rhythms of grace that leads to maintaining a positive attitude which relieves the symptoms of holiday blues.
Tips to beat the blues
Here is a small list of things you can do to avoid the holiday blues.
Seek God’s presence through meditating on Scripture, prayer, praise and worship, listening to Christian music, and/or holy conferencing
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Exercise Regularly, consider prayer walking
Set Realistic Expectations
Find time for yourself - prioritize self-care
Get your house in order to maximize the brain's potential
Get into the Holiday spirit - Leave room in your plans for the real reason of the season - Jesus Christ is born.
While you're decorating, put on soothing music, dare to dance around the room. This will make you feel included as if you are part of a larger group of people celebrating in their special way.
Don’t linger on the past. Don't be disappointed if your holidays aren't exactly what you expected. Change is inevitable in life. Every holiday season is unique and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Celebrate the holidays in a way that you've never done before. Commit to making a difference in someone else’s life.
Spend time with folks who are encouraging and concerned about your well-being.
Seek out intentional worship experiences that acknowledge the reality of holiday blues - ex. Blue Christmas celebrations, Holiday Blues & Jazz Service at Scarritt Bennett Center on December 12th.
Remember, you can’t force yourself to be happy, but you can claim joy by allowing the joy of the Lord to be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). You can allow your soul to find rest in God; trusting your hope comes from God, for truly he is our rock and our salvation; our fortress, that we may not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-8). You can remember that you are loved unconditionally by the one who freely gave His life that you might live (John 10:10).
Start today to take the positive steps needed to protect yourself from the emotional impact of the holiday blues. How will you begin to apply these good deeds today that can lead to a healthy, balanced, and spirit filled life this season and all seasons?
Rev. Dr. Paula B. Smith
Gordon Memorial UMC, Sr. Pastor
Steal Away Women, Founder
Tennessee Conference Health & Wellness Committee Member