Are you looking forward to a happy holiday season, or are you gearing up for a stretch of sadness and stress that won’t let up until 2016? Not being excited for the end-of-year holidays doesn’t make you a grinch–many people experience the “holiday blues,” a worsened mood linked to the stressful period surrounding holidays such as Christmas.
Kathleen Doheny at Everyday Health spoke to a number of psychologists, who gave their best advice as to how to manage the holiday blues.
1. Don’t confuse the cause. “Holiday blues” are frequently confused with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition in which decreased mood is linked to the winter season. But SAD and holiday blues have entirely different causes. SAD is thought to be your body and brain’s response to getting less sunlight during the winter months; the holiday blues are specifically linked to the cultural context of Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and other holidays.
2. Don’t get caught up in expectations. People can have complex emotional associations with the holidays, both positive and negative. Try to temper both the good and bad expectations, and go into the holidays with a neutral attitude. It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out to be the most wonderful time of the year; at the same time, there’s no reason to expect that it’s going to be a trainwreck. Take your feelings as they come, rather than writing a script and trying to follow it.
3. What’s the plan? At the same time, think about what you can do to make your holiday plans as easy as possible. You’ll find that this is easier if you accept that your holidays don’t have to be perfect, or the same as previous years. You have more control than you think you do. You don’t have to accept every invitation you’re given, and if you don’t have anything to do with friends and family, there are plenty of things you can do other than sitting around at home. If you go to a dinner party, you don’t have to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. See if you can’t sit closer to the people you’re more comfortable around, and farther away from the people who stress you out. Make sure that you’re feeling okay before falling into other people’s plans for you. It’s not rude to want to feel safe and relaxed.
4. Practice mindfulness. During the holidays, even when we can’t control the actions of the people around us, we have some control over how we react. Try and accept both your good and bad feelings, and allow the bad to pass you by without holding on to them. It takes some practice, but you’ll find you can be positive and realistic at the same time.
5. Don’t compare your life with others. People tend to present a certain vision of themselves during the holiday season. Some people choose to emphasize their religious devotion, others their bond with their family, and others their economic success; all of these people want to frame themselves in a positive light that fits a special time of the year. Christmas cards and social media create a filtered version of reality that sometimes makes it seem like everyone else is happier and more successful than you.
Remember that many of these people, deep down, are going through the same experiences as you are. The stress of the holiday blues affects us even when we’re surrounded by our loved ones, posing for that Christmas card. Try not to compare your actual, lived experience to other people’s photographs and Facebook updates. Take a break from social media until the holidays blow over, and focus instead on your own life and your own holiday experience.
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