Christmas Blues: Depression Over The Holidays

By:    Published: December 20, 2011

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The holidays can be a time of great joy, celebration and reconnection with family members. But for some, it can also be a time of great stress, and even sadness or loneliness. It can feel isolating, and those feelings of isolation can make the Christmas blues even worse. But there are ways to cope with these feelings, and the good news is that the Christmas or holiday blues won't last forever.

What Is It?

The Christmas blues feel very similar to mild depression. While depression and stress over the holidays is serious and shouldn't be minimized, it is important to know that it doesn't fit the criteria for a depression diagnosis because the symptoms typically don't last long enough, and they usually aren't severe enough for that type of diagnosis.

Christmas blues can be similar to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as both have similar feelings and typically occur around the same time. However, seasonal affective disorder typically lasts for much longer than the Christmas blues. Plus, the Christmas blues don't have the light component that SAD does. Seasonal affective disorder is often treated by light therapy to help rebalance brain chemicals and relieve symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of the Christmas or holiday blues often mimic symptoms of depression, although they typically don't cause people to feel suicidal like depression can.

Symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Appetite changes
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Agitation
  • Irrational feelings of guilt
  • Decreased interest in food, sex, work, family and friends or hobbies

Managing Christmas Blues

The first thing to keep in mind is that the Christmas or holiday blues will not last forever. Often, these feelings can be a response to an interruption in normal schedules and routines that bring most people comfort, leaving them feeling out of balance and out of control.

  • One of the most important things that people with the Christmas blues can do for themselves is practice good self care. This includes things like eating right, exercising regularly and getting plenty of rest. Setting realistic goals can help people feel less stressed, and feeling less stressed will help reduce the feelings associated with the Christmas blues. When it comes to time and budgetary constraints, setting goals will keep people from being over extended in multiple ways and relieve some of the many stresses that occur during the holidays.
  • People with the Christmas blues need to create personal ways to celebrate the holidays. Often people get depressed because they are disconnected from their family or friends. On the same token, they shouldn't feel obligated to celebrate a holiday if they choose not to. Whatever works for an individual person is the right way to celebrate.
  • It's very important that people with the Christmas blues don't fight what they are feeling. Denial is not healthy, and they should recognize that there is nothing wrong with the way they feel. People with the Christmas blues often feel guilty because they think there is something wrong with them for not being happy over the holidays.
  • Spending time with family and friends can help with the Christmas blues, but this isn't always possible. Often those who are estranged from their family feel depression over the holidays because they are alone. If this is the case, they can try volunteering. There are many organizations that need help around the holidays and volunteering is a great way to meet new people as well as help others. Helping others always provides an emotional boost.
  • Another great way to help with the Christmas blues is to do something special. No matter what it is, whether it is having a special meal and watching favorite movies or going to a special place, doing something special and meaningful can help lift spirits.
  • It's important not to overindulge on food or alcohol. This will only make the physical and emotional feelings worse. It's also important not to dwell on the past or anything negative. Remember that it's all in the past and can't be changed. All that can be controlled is the future, so focusing on the possibilities can keep spirits high. If someone is still struggling, there is no shame in seeking help from a professional therapist.

Warning Signs

Any thoughts of suicide are cause for concern and are most likely not the Christmas or holiday blues. Also, if the symptoms last longer than a few weeks, it could be seasonal affective disorder or some other depressive condition. If someone experiences any thoughts of hurting themselves or others, or just can't seem to shake the symptoms after about two weeks, they need to consult a mental health professional.

The Christmas blues are common and nothing to be ashamed of. With some good self-care and management techniques, people can get through the holidays and back to their normal lives with as little stress as possible.

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