Help for the holiday blues

The pressure over the holiday season to be merry and bright can be overwhelming. For those who suffer from the holiday blues — and especially those going through a difficult transition such as loss of a parent or spouse, or divorce or illness — the season represents an obstacle course over emotional pitfalls.

Here are 10 ways to address the holiday blues — and when you should seek additional help.

1. Don’t cover up your feelings. It’s just fine to calmly let friends and family know that you just aren’t feeling the festive spirit this year. Allow them to be supportive or to give you the option to opt out of particular events. This is particularly important if you are grieving a loss.

2. Set reasonable expectations. A lot of the pressure from the holidays can stem from perfectionism. It’s just fine to buy pre-prepared treats at the store, use a gift-wrapping service, or take other shortcuts.

3. Delegate tasks to other family members. If you don’t feel up to cooking the turkey or trimming the tree this year — don’t.

4. Take time off from the holidays. Don’t feel that all your time has to be focused around the season. Get out to a park or other area that’s not all bedecked in bows and lights. If you live near a multicultural area it can be refreshing to spend time in shops and restaurants that aren’t as likely to over-emphasize the season.

5. Don’t over-spend. Financial worry is not something you need to add to your stress levels. Your family and friends will appreciate simple cards or gifts.

6. Avoid over-indulging. Excess food can leave you feeling uncomfortable and with extra pounds to lose after the holidays. Alcohol is a depressant and can make a difficult time even worse.

7. Get enough rest. Lack of sleep makes everything more difficult.

8. Don’t put all your energy into one day. There is time to celebrate at a different time of year — and failing to enjoy one particular day on the calendar is not an indication of how the next year will be.

9. Ask for help. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation (in the US) has identified lack of eyesight or mobility as factors in holiday depression for seniors. If you need help to get to a religious service or reading and writing holiday correspondence, corral a grandchild or friend into making sure you can still enjoy what is important to you.


10. Change your traditions – and do something newly meaningful to you. For some people volunteering can give meaning to a holiday that has begun to feel meaningless. Others begin the tradition of curling up by the fire — and television — with a stack of DVDs unrelated to winter at all. The sky is truly the limit.

And one additional tip: if you are grieving a loss this season you may be surprised at how difficult it is to get through the holidays when every tradition reminds you of the person or relationship that is no longer a part of them. One thing that helps some people is to take a morning or afternoon to make space to truly grieve — visit a gravesite, or look over old photos with a box of tissues available. It’s fine to take that space rather than just carrying on as if nothing has changed.

While the holiday blues are something to address in smaller ways, depression can be much more serious. The GMHF has identified the following as signs of depression in later life. If you experience several of these symptoms — or the “blues” for longer than the few weeks of the holiday season – consider consulting a professional such as your family doctor.

• Persistent sadness
• Withdrawal from regular social activities
• Slowed thinking or response
• Lack of energy or interest in things that were once enjoyable
• Excessive worry about finances or health
• Frequent tearfulness
• Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
• Weight changes
• Pacing and fidgeting
• Changes in sleep patterns (inability to sleep or excessive sleep)
• Inability to concentrate
• Staring off into space (or at the television) for prolonged periods of time

Additional resources:
National Institute on Aging: Depression
Canadian Mental Health Association – Depression