10 Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues

woman behind window with a cup of coffeeIn my private practice, there is often an uptick of depression and resurgence of grief among people who seek my help between Halloween and Valentine’s Day. It’s not uncommon for people to feel the impact of seasonal changes brought on by less sunlight (medically called seasonal affective disorder), immobility due to snow/rain storms, remembering loved ones and times past with bittersweet wistfulness (perhaps due to death or divorce), financial pressures, and family obligations. Although some of the festivities and cheerful lighting can bring about a nice distraction, many report increased fatigue, stress, and blues around the holidays.

So what can you do if you are feeling the effects of seasonal stress? Here are some thoughts and tips to keep in mind:

  1. Consider psychotherapy. It’s normal and valid to feel grief cycling through around milestone occasions such as holidays and dates of special memories, even if the loss occurred many years ago. We remember people who are no longer with us who impacted our lives profoundly, and we mourn the losses of relationships that are no longer. Give yourself ample time and space to revisit grief as those feelings surface, and don’t hesitate to seek psychotherapy if you find that those feelings persist or evolve into depression or anxiety. Grief and loss happen to all people at various times in their lives.
  2. Focus on the future. Just as it’s important to feel the tough emotions, it’s equally pertinent to spend as much time having hope for the future as having thoughts about past losses. This time of year is a great opportunity to create a vision board (paint/draw/magazine photo collage) with images of where you wish to take your life in terms of goals related to health, wellness, livelihood, family/friendships/love relationships, spirituality, balance, travel, hobbies, etc. Spend as much time on this project as you like and, when complete, place your vision board in a space you can see daily, meditating on the possibilities for the future and beginning to put together an action plan with details about which goals to tackle now and in the near future.
  3. Shake it up a bit. Traditional rituals can be a source of comfort or a reminder of emotional pain from days gone by. Try something new, like going away over the holidays to a tropical destination or a snow-covered mountain retreat. Even an overnight adventure in a new locale can do wonders for the soul.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive people. Instead of catering to everyone else and their needs/demands over the holidays, be very clear about how you wish to set your boundaries in terms of availability for various gatherings, hosting, gift giving, etc. Know your limits, set your boundaries accordingly, and stick to them. You can’t please everyone, but you owe it to yourself to please yourself.
  5. Engage in self-care rituals. It’s important to keep up with exercise, good nutrition, and excellent sleep hygiene, avoiding excess alcohol, sugars, etc. Exercise lifts those feel-good endorphins in the brain and keeps serotonin high. At least five hours of uninterrupted sleep (closer to eight is better) restores sleep cycles and keeps serotonin up. Keep hydrated as well. Get outside and get sunshine as much as possible. Studies show that a lack of sunlight can contribute to depression symptoms. For people living at more northerly latitudes, consider purchasing a full-spectrum light box to offset the lack of natural light.
  6. Be grateful. Pay attention to what is going well in your life. There’s likely a lot to be thankful for. When we are down or stressed, it’s easy to overlook or dismiss that which is a gift in our lives—the special love of your dog, a pretty sunset, good health, paid bills, or a fun book to read by the fireplace. It’s far easier to pay attention to what’s not going well. Challenge yourself to focus on what you are grateful for; you’ll be amazed how what you allow your thoughts to dwell on influences your mood significantly.
  7. Tap into spirituality—whatever that is for you. It may be a walk in nature, decorating a tree or lighting a menorah, saying a prayer, or meditation. Whatever spirituality means to you, practice it and connect yourself to the season of wonder.
  8. Get creative. You are innately an amazing person. You have many gifts to bestow the world. Maybe you have already connected with your path of creative expression, or perhaps you are in transition with a career or livelihood. Get out your crafting/art supplies and add to your vision board, practice self-soothing mandala drawings, or indulge in some fun holiday ornamentation which lifts your spirits. If you enjoy cooking or the smells of delicious holiday treats, surround your senses with the comfort of creative ritual through food, décor, and the company of those whose spirits uplift and energize you.
  9. Schedule a planned indulgence as a gift to the fabulous person you are. It can be anything—a massage, a retreat for your favorite hobby/passion/spiritual path, a new outfit, a great book or movie, or that weekend (or week-long) getaway you’ve been planning on doing.
  10. Volunteer to help the less fortunate. Participate in serving at a soup kitchen for the homeless, adopt a shelter dog/cat, or donate toys/food to nonprofit organizations. Sometimes when we do things for others, we are able to stand outside of ourselves and have some perspective. Plus, we make the world a better place.

The holidays can be a time of joy or, alternatively, stress and blues. I hope the tips above can help in reducing the worries and struggles that can be a part of the holiday season. May you honor yourself and your needs and have a restful, inspiring, and rejuvenating fall and winter.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, Learning Difficulties Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Van

    November 24th, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    I try really hard to remember that these are people who only get the opportunity to annoy me once or twice or year so that really I should be able to deal with that!! lol

  • Len

    November 24th, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    A few years ago my wife and I decided that we had had enough of the whole holiday thing for ourselves, so why not go out and find a way to help those in the community who are far less fortunate than what we are? We found several organizations looking for volunteers for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, so now instead of stressing about unimportant things at our house, we go out and help feed those who are thankful for the little things. It helps me reevaluate the way that I look at the world, and helps me refocus once again on the things that are the most important in life.

  • Chris

    December 9th, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Amen. Praise God for you and your wife. I have severe Social Anxiety and dread the Holidays. Not by choice but I get very sick. My wife and I cook for the Homeless in our small town that has No Services for them at all out of our own pockets. We need more Giving people like You and Your Wife in this World. God Bless 🙏😇

  • Andrea Schneider

    November 24th, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    good luck with that, Van! Happy Holidays…Andrea

  • Callie

    November 25th, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    Am I the only one who really does enjoy this time of year? All I ever hear about anymore is the stress and anxiety, and not people who actually look forward to getting together and sharing this time with family and friends. Call me Pollyanna, but this is the most wonderful time of year for me. Anything stressful is far outweighed by all of the great parts of the season for me.

  • Chris

    December 9th, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    it has Nothing to do with,for Many of us, Not wanting to have fun. Many people suffer with illnesses that deter them from being involved. I would attach an article that explains it better but not able to on this site. Depression, Social Anxiety Disorder are a few to mention. Hopefully you will understand this someday and Not Judge someone else for which you have no idea what they endure everyday.

  • Karyn M

    December 10th, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    Thank you Chris….depression is not a choice. I want to enjoy all that I used to enjoy and not just holidays but all year long. I want back
    what that woman takes for granted.

  • Clay

    November 25th, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Drinks, anyone?

  • Foster

    November 26th, 2014 at 4:11 AM

    My family and I have simply made new traditions so that we could no longer be haunted by the memories of old. We now travel over the holidays and even though there are some destinations that are pretty crowded it is a great time for us to get away together and do something fun and memorable instead of being stuck at home reliving memories that most of us would rather not. That to me now is what the holidays are all about, and I look forward to it now instead of dreading it for weeks on end.

  • Chris

    December 9th, 2014 at 2:30 PM

    Sounds Awesome!! I wish I could travel because I would do the same. I have Social Anxiety Disorder and dread the Holiday Season. I was born on Christmas Day too so go figure. Enjoy and Happy Holidays 🎄🎅

  • Teela

    November 26th, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    I am perfectly okay with admitting that I sought out therapy when the holiday season almost became too much to bear. I had lost a lot of people who were important to me and the season did not feel like it would ever be the same for me again without them being here. My therapist showed me all oft he unique ways that I could look forward to this time of year again, that things would be different of course but that it could be equally fun and fulfilling.

  • holly

    November 27th, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    If this is a time of the year that truly stresses you out and makes you unhappy then I honestly think that the best thing that you can do is to commit to taking things one day at a time. Don’t look at the big picture, and the six weeks of parties and get togethers and things like that. Just take it one day at a time and do the things on a day to day basis that will help to keep you sane. I think that there are a alot of us who become so overwhelmed and this is what causes the anxiety, not necessarily the fact that we have to go to family gatherings and things like that.

  • Fallon

    November 29th, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Think about the ways that you can possibly contribute to making things more bearable instead of always looking at the things that you feel that others are doing wrong to you.


    November 30th, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    A planned indulgence just for me?
    Beautiful! I love it!

  • selena

    November 30th, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Get tucked in now and not get up until January? ;)

  • Lori W

    December 3rd, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Every year, I suffer very bad depression with the Winter Blues….I generally don’t enjoy my Thanksgiving or Christmas because I believe it is the lack of sunlight. I occasionally go tanning (which I know is not good for my skin) but just for the light – I believe it does help with the Seasonal Affect Disorder which I most certainly have. I will go tanning JUST for the light…just to give my body a dose of light. It DOES seem to help actually.

  • Ashley

    December 9th, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    You may consider a light therapy lamp

  • Beata

    December 10th, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    How to find a good therapist?
    We are departing tomorrow to the South with the kids for the very first time to get some sun and warmth and…my husband got 39C fever. How not to be anxious…

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    December 10th, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    Hi Beata. The best way to look for a therapist on GoodTherapy.org is to go on our advanced search (https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html) and use it to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may also call our toll-free Find-A-Therapist line at 888-563-2112 ext. 1. We hope that helps!

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Andrea Schneider LCSW

    December 10th, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    Beata – also if you are interested in telehealth options please feel free to contact me. Andrea

  • mathew

    March 28th, 2015 at 8:38 AM

    Over the xmas holidays just passed, i was working in a place where it was always busy. Now i dont mind the busy part, it was the fact of having to find staff and the worst was having to train countless people in that time. I was so depressed and still extremely depressed to this day because that placed i worked at really and totally broke me. Couldnt get days off, picking up after people and the struggle of which the work place should of had a stucture of employment when hiring people. Then you would have people over and over talking about you and i would get to the point of just to their face while its busy, that if you have to say then say it to my face. Then i would be so angry for the rest of the day, it affects everyone after that. Well one day this went to the point of where i just quit my job destroyed my phone and have been hiding at home for the past three months hardly going outside for fear of people just making any type of passing comment and now i cant get of this situation and i have to get back to work soon otherwise find myself on the streets. So i never have been overseas am hoping that this trip i am taking is going to work for me and get me out of a recluse enviroment and back into excerise again, if it doesnt i dont know or who to turn too if it doesnt work. Mind you i have always helped others before myself whenever someone was in need, but asking for help myself i am lost and dont know how to recover.

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