Blues: a feeling of melancholy and unhappiness in response to specific circumstances. Countless singers have crooned about “feeling blue” and what (or who) made them feel that way. We have all been there at some point in our lives.
Sometimes, those feelings are triggered by the holiday season. Many different holidays are tightly packed between November and January, producing a whirlwind of events, traditions, activities, and overwhelming expectations for some people. These are the holiday blues.
The temporary ailment eventually disappears after the holidays. Until then, you can manage your holiday blues and keep yourself from feeling like you’d rather crawl under a large, craggy rock and stay there until mid-January. Read on for some insights into holiday blues, how to reduce the feeling, and ways to get some enjoyment out of your holiday time.
What Causes Holiday Blues?
The holiday blues are not a diagnosed mental illness but a negative response to the activity surrounding the holidays. There are as many causes as there are people with holiday blues. For some people, maybe money is tight this year, and they can’t buy the kind of gifts they want for their children. Others miss their families and can’t travel to see them. Some have to travel to see relatives they’d rather avoid. For others, the party better be perfect, or people will talk. Maybe someone else experienced a loss earlier in the year. You’re just not as joyful as the commercials say you’re supposed to be!
It often boils down to expectations—your own or others’ expectations of you—that are unrealistic or unfair. You want the perfect holiday, but you don’t have enough time to get everything done. You’re spending more money than you can afford, or the family dynamics make a perfect gathering impossible.
One study showed that while people reported positive and negative feelings during the holidays, stress increased for 38% of the participants due to lack of time or money, gift-buying issues, family gatherings, and commercialism.
In reality, a cause can be anything that prevents you from having an ideal holiday. A cause may also be you trying too hard to overcome those obstacles.
How Do the Holiday Blues Feel?
They are stressful! A study by the American Psychological Association found that about 44% of women and 33% of men reported feeling holiday-related stress from “forced joyfulness and expectations.” The Financial Well-Being Index, conducted by the Principal Financial Group, found that 53% of survey participants felt financial stress from holiday spending. There is also the stress of obligations to attend multiple events and other demands for perfection.
All that stress and all those expectations either make you feel so tired that it’s hard to get things done or push you into a dizzying fray of activity in an attempt to do it all. As a result, you might feel sad and experience lower energy levels than expected or you might feel anxious and wish you could be alone.
Since early 2020, we have all been stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This adds another set of issues to the holiday blues. Many people have found themselves without jobs and with very tight budgets. They have been struggling with restrictions and safety measures. The lack of travel and in-person events has either added to their stress or given them some relief. Isolation has affected many, and holidays may intensify that feeling of holiday blues.
What to Do about Holiday Blues
Fortunately, the holiday blues are not a serious, chronic mental illness. You can do many things during the holiday season to lighten up your mood and find some enjoyment.
Manage Your Expectations
Don’t expect perfection. You’re not living in a scripted movie or television show. Your friends’ social media posts don’t paint the whole picture of their lives. Relatives who don’t get along all year will not suddenly become best buddies because it’s a holiday. And other people’s expectations of your perfection are unrealistic.
Instead, create new, realistic expectations. Can you react differently to Uncle Joe’s and Cousin Bob’s inevitable political argument? How many party invitations can you accept? How much should other people expect of you? What about your lists for gifts, cards, visits, and such? Pare them down if you need to. Try creating new, more realistic traditions.
Manage Your Time and Money
Set limits! Decide what things are most important. Devote most of your time to them, and say no to other things. Most people will understand, so you don’t need to run yourself into the ground trying to please everyone.
Before the season begins, set a budget with as much detail as you need and stay within it. You don’t need your holiday blues to reappear when the January credit card bill arrives!
First, be kind to yourself. Don’t blame yourself if you cannot do everything necessary for a perfect holiday. No one can do that. Instead, spend time with people who support you and share your concerns.
Managing New Activities
Have you tried volunteering? You can wrap gifts for children in foster care, deliver holiday meals and gifts to families in need, pack care packages for military people overseas, and much more. Helping others turns your mood around, as does surrounding yourself with other volunteers.
Look for other activities in your area that take a reasonable amount of time and resources on your part and share with others you care about. It’ll make you feel happy!
The holiday blues keep you from enjoying what could be a pleasant time. When society and your circumstances seem to dictate how you are supposed to feel and your true feelings don’t match, the holiday blues can set in.
Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to pull yourself out of that emotional trench. First, create realistic expectations, which allow you to de-stress. Then, you change your plans and activities to reflect those new expectations. Give yourself this gift, and enjoy the holidays on your terms!