“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Ugh. Humppfftt! (Mannheim Steamroller record scratches, balls fall from tree and break, scrambling cat screeches, candle snuffs out…)
When you’re not feeling festive, it can be lonely…like you’re the only one who forgot to take their extra-large, daily dose of Holiday Hooray.
Along with bringing joy, festivity and family connectedness to our lives, the holidays can raise our stress levels or highlight feelings of isolation, even in a crowd. And that’s before we once again see another headline or hear the news about COVID-19 rates surging across the country.
Overwhelmed is what many truly feel this time of the year, every year, and that is compounded by the pandemic we find ourselves in….As the coronavirus crisis continues, we’re headed into a holiday season that will further challenge our expectations. Many have canceled travel plans, decided not to socialize with people outside our households, or are waiting to make decisions until we know more about case counts.
These unusual circumstances are profoundly affecting our moods, too. In a survey conducted by Regence and Feedback Loop, 25% of all respondents said they feel stressed when thinking about the holidays this year. Nearly 20% reported feeling sad or distraught, and almost 15% said they felt frustrated.
The majority of people surveyed — 75% — said COVID-19 affected their emotions. And 55% said the coronavirus made them feel more stressed about holiday planning.
In light of all this, how can we not just cope, but find the comfort and joy the carols promise? Experts say it can help to:
- Recognize that things will be different for you and your family;
- Accept your feelings about these changes;
- Stay connected to others; and
- Find creative ways to safely honor your traditions.
It is important to remember, if you are feeling blue, you’re not alone, says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. What follows are a few quick strategies you can use to possibly brighten your mood and thrive through the season.
Good reasons to Hate the holidays?
Who doesn’t love the holidays? Oh, Ho Ho, plenty of people.
Maybe you have a tense relationship with your family; or you like your family, but they live far away; so you’ll be spending the holidays solo. Perhaps you’ve suffered a loss, and the season is stirring up painful reminders.
Some people loathe the consumerism and gift-grabbing excess. Even those who like celebrating and gift giving can get stressed out about blowing their budget or living up to others’ expectations of jolliness, especially this year. And if you’re an introvert, holiday gatherings and work parties can feel like torture.
“There are all sorts of ways to feel bad this time of year,” says Dr. Bea. “And if you’re not feeling merry, all the forced merriment around you can make you feel even worse by comparison.”
Try to remember that there are others in your shoes. “We’re all in a battle with our own brains and trying to do the best we can,” Dr. Bea says.
Turn holiday depression on its head
This month is Seasonal Depression Awareness Month, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); so we thought we’d share these ideas to help when you’re feeling a tad Grinchy.
1. Don’t beat yourself up. If you aren’t in the holiday spirit, don’t give in to guilt or worry. Give yourself some much-deserved compassion. “Your feelings around the holidays are valid sentiments,” Dr. Bea says.
2. Open up. Be honest with your friends and family about your feelings, Dr. Bea recommends. If you’ve lost a loved one and aren’t up for a party, say so. If your budget is tight, explain that to your family. Suggest drawing names or skipping gifts. It’s all about making great memories, anyway, isn’t it?
“Communication is the key to successful relationships. Communicate openly about these things without a sense of shame,” he says.
3. Underdo it. If ever there was a time not to keep up with the Joneses, it’s when the Joneses have erected a 12-foot Christmas tree, wrapped their house with 3 miles of twinkling lights and organized a neighborhood cookie swap, all while smelling of sliced cider and spruce.
Cut back where you can to keep holidays manageable. Skip holiday cards, give gift certificates instead of hand-knitted scarves, and RSVP your regrets to that overly fancy New Year’s party. “Dare to be imperfect,” Dr. Bea says. “Let your traditions evolve toward lower tension.”
4. Manage expectations. Before you chuck all your holiday traditions, though, talk to your family. Decide together which traditions make you feel good and which aren’t worth the work. “Remind your family that you’ll all benefit if you keep expectations reasonable,” Dr. Bea says.
5. Create new holiday traditions. If dinner with your dysfunctional family ruins your entire December, ask yourself: Do you really need to go through with it? Can you celebrate with friends instead? If all the feasting leaves you feeling sluggish and gross, plan a Hanukkah hike to counteract the latkes.
If you’re sad you won’t have anyone to smooch when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, recruit a friend and binge on Netflix and Nerd ropes instead. “If your old traditions haven’t been ideal, create some new traditions that are uniquely yours,” Dr. Bea suggests.
6. Crank up your self-care. Exercise, eating well, sleeping enough and otherwise taking care of yourself is something you should do all year. But it’s especially important to carve out time for self-care during the holidays. “These are the best gifts to give yourself,” Dr. Bea says.
7. Counteract bad weather. Holidays often go hand-in-hand with chilly weather and dark, gloomy days. That alone can mess with your mood. On top of that, people tend to be more sedentary and less social during the winter.
Make a point to move your body and spend time with friends. If you experience seasonal depression, Dr. Bea recommends investing in a light therapy lamp to brighten your mood.
8. Reach out to others. It can be lonely if you feel like the only one not basking in holiday happiness. Take some time to connect with others. Ask genuine questions to engage on a deeper level with the cousins you only see once a year. Reach out to friends who might be feeling overwhelmed or lonely.
“Giving the gift of our time and attention to others also activates good brain chemistry for ourselves,” Dr. Bea says.
9. You do you. Ultimately, the best way to survive the season is to be true to your needs and feelings. That doesn’t mean you should sneer at the way others celebrate, but you can choose to do things your way.
“It’s OK to be unconventional,” Dr. Bea says. “Find something of your own that brings you peace, and have a plan for how to make that happen.”
Do Get Help if Needed
We all get a little out of sorts. Not hard to imagine considering what this year has been like. It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for stretches of time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
Here are some ready sources for immediate contact:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
Also visit the online treatment locators.
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the toll-free TTY number at 1-800-799-4TTY (4889). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
- Light Therapy (Mayo Clinic)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder – National Institute of Mental Health
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: Bring on the Light, Harvard Health Publications