Struggling with the Holiday Blues? You are not alone. Here’s How to Cope.

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photo credit Kuroda Studios

Struggling with the Holiday Blues?

You are not alone. Here’s How to Cope. 

The holidays are hard.

Wait, did I just say that?

I know it’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of year”, but I’m just going to be real with you. They can be hard for me. And hard for others too.

Sure on Facebook, everyone’s holidays look perfect. Shiny things and families smiling. But that’s just social media for you. Everything looks like a good time when you scroll online. Let’s be real. No one’s life is perfect like a Christmas card and sometimes a smile signals great strength despite life’s obstacles.

The holidays can trigger sadness, anxiety, stress, and depression for a lot of people (eight out of 10 Americans according to the American Psychological Association). I’m one of them. As a recovering perfectionistic people pleaser, the holidays often challenge me to stay well mentally. Over the years I’ve learned how to better work with the season and created self-care strategies to help me stay grounded, positive, and present (which I go into deeper detail in my book). But that doesn’t mean the holidays are a walk in the park.

For me, it helps to identify and be mindful of triggers to seasonal sadness so that I can better move through the holidays in health. Some “holiday blues” triggers include:

  • Financial Stress. Not enough money, fear of not having enough money, guilt around spending money, or feeling like you can’t afford to celebrate or give the gifts you want to give.
  • Too Much To Do. The added stress of events, shopping, and planning when you’re already overworked and tired can feel overwhelming. We try to fit everything into an already tight schedule which can be exhausting. When my plate is too full it makes me feel frazzled and burnt out. I feel defeated when I feel like I “can’t keep up with it all” or “half-ass” on commitments I want to be there for.  
  • Loneliness and Grief. Missing those we love, reminiscing on past memories, or facing deep emotional feelings. Tis the season. 
  • Interpersonal Relationships. There’s no such thing as the perfect family or relationship. The holiday’s can serve up a lot of psychological or emotional stress in dealing with complicated family/friend relationships.
  • Divorce/Breakup. If you’re newly divorced, the holidays may remind you of happier times and accentuate your grief. It’s especially difficult for children of divorce who have to balance seeing two sets of parents. The stress is multiplied for married children who have three or even four sets of parents to visit.
  • High Expectations. Expectations of a magical holiday season can create physical and mental stress. High expectations of a happy family gathering can end in disappointment. We put pressure on ourselves to make the holiday “perfect” and when it doesnt turn out the way we expect it to, we feel let down or sad. 
  • People Pleasing. Trying to be there for everyone and everything – can make you feel guilty and like you’re not doing enough.
  • Holiday Travel. Having to deal with airports, traffic, hotels, and getting from point A to point B during the busiest season for travel can be exhausting. Not to mention dealing with jetlag and maintaining your health while on the road.
  • SAD. Many people experience the blues during gloomy weather due to decreased sunlight, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I am absolutely one of those people! Summer is my favorite holiday 🙂

Do any of the above factors make you feel stressed, burnt out, sad, sick, or depressed? Well let me tell you, you are not alone. I’m right there with you. But you can make the holidays easier on yourself by following the below tips for success.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned to handle holiday stress triggers and manage the season without losing my marbles:

  • Set reasonable expectations and let go of perfection. Don’t try to do too much or match some ideal of the “perfect” holiday. If you’re comparing your holidays to some abstract greeting card ideal, they’ll always come up short. Strive to keep expectations in balance and drop the need for perfect. The best moments happen when you stop to enjoy them and real is so much better than perfect.
  • Commit to self care. Whatever it takes, take care of yourself. When you are traveling make time for exercise. Commit to getting enough sleep as much as possible. Make time for rest and for yourself. Remember the old airplane order: You put your oxygen mask on first before you can take care of everyone else.
  • Don’t overbook! Leave space. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the season with events.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Leave space. Not feeling overbooked and having space will significantly reduce your stress.
  • Practice healthy drinking habits. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate feelings of stress and sadness. Too much alcohol can also interfere with healthy sleep and interrupt natural sleep cycles.  Not to mention, getting too drunk at your family event might not help you improve relationships. If you accidentally overdo it, read my “holiday hangover cure” here.
  • Move Your Body to Move Your Mood.  While the physical benefits of exercise are great, I exercise to keep my mind in good shape (especially during the holidays). Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce depression and anxiety, decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Endorphins really are the best natural happy drug in the world and even a short daily walk can have a big impact. If it’s too cold in your area to enjoy a walk or run, check out a fun group fitness class or press play on my youtube videos for effective, no-equipment needed home workouts. There are also dozens of smartphone apps that can also guide you through a workout and I include my favorites in my book.  
  • Nourish Yourself. There’s nothing that spells mental meltdown faster than going too long without a real meal (sorry, cheese and crackers at the holiday party do not count as a balanced diet). Make sure to get a solid breakfast, eat all the healthy vegetables you can, and commit to quality nutrition during this time. For me this means eating light, eating clean, and eating often. Keeping myself well fueled with real food helps me maintain my energy levels and keep stress at bay.  I have snacks on hand and prepare healthy dishes to bring to events so that I know I’ll have options.  Real food = happier mood and staying well fueled = keeping your cool.
  • Kick sugar to the curb. Processed white sugar is known to contribute to depression and can exacerbate the holiday blues. Plus sugar is toxic and causes stress on the body (no one likes a sugar hangover). When you begin to notice how what you eat affects how you feel, it becomes easier to make smarter choices with sugar. Being mindful of your sugar intake during the holidays can significantly help manage anxiety and boost your mood.
  • Budget your bucks and get creative with gifts. Overspending during the holidays can lead to continued stress down the road. Set spending limits and stick to them. Or get creative and give gifts that you can’t buy in a store (experiences, memories, homemade crafts, etc).
  • Limit Social Media. Even though you know that most people only post their happiest moments on social media, it’s easy to lose perspective and get a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Comparison is the thief of joy and you can’t compare yourself to others’ highlight reels of their lives. Limit your consumption of Facebook, instagram, snapchat, and instead  reach out to your close friends via phone or text message when you feel like connecting with people. You’ll get more satisfaction from spending real, face time with people rather than scrolling down a feed of tons of people you haven’t seen in years.
  • Create time for yourself during family gatherings. This one is huge for me. I love people and get a lot of energy from social events, but if I don’t have mini breaks, I lose my sh*t. Take a walk outside, find a quiet corner in the house, or make a quick trip to the store to gather your thoughts and relax.
  • Reframe Your Holiday. If you feel isolated, it’s important to remember you’re still in charge of your life. The way to bring more abundance into your life is to give first. Find opportunities to volunteer. Meet people. Attend events. Instead of feeling left out of others’ holiday plans, think of the break as free time to do whatever you wants — even if that means spending the day at home making vision boards or watching movies.
  • Eliminate stress by pre-planning. Plan any shopping, errands, and cooking in advance. Setting a schedule and making priorities will prevent too much from piling up at the last minute.
  • Set Aside Differences. Christmas dinner at Aunt Maud’s house doesn’t have to be the annual free-for-all or tension-filled affair as in past years. Make a pact with yourself to accept family members and loved ones for who they are without any expectations. Hopefully, they will do the same for you. But if they don’t and someone tries to pick a fight, just smile and wish them a Merry Christmas. This is not the time to air grievances, although it might be a good time to walk away.If there is someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, send them a holiday card. You don’t have to say anything other than “thinking of you and wishing you well.” It will make both of you feel better.
  • Talk to someone. If you are feeling down during this time of year, seek support. It’s totally OK to ask for help and talk to someone.  Infact, if you are struggling with anxiety, sadness, depression, or your mind, talking to someone may feel like a huge breath of fresh air. Lean on a friend or family member you trust, or seek out a mental health professional. You can try an online service like Reflect, an incredible online talk therapy resource.
  • Renew Your Spirit. Wellness is so much more than being fit, it’s being fulfilled in spirit. Take the time to connect to the people, places, and things that help you feel most alive and find purpose in your life. If you need some guidance, read the Spirit section of my book which is filled with suggestions, tools, and resources to lift you up.

It took me a few years to personalize healthy lifestyle habits that help me manage seasonal stress and feel my best. So if you are struggling this year, take some solace in the fact that no one’s life is perfect and you are not alone. It can be the most bittersweet, highly charged time of year (even though that’s the part that we don’t talk about). But I’m positive that this can be your best holiday yet if you are open to changing some of your old traditions that bring you down and trying new holiday habits that can lift you up.

Want more tips so you can keep your mind in good shape no matter what life brings you next? Check out my new book  Balanced Body Breakthrough. There is an entire section of the book dedicated to mental wellbeing with tools, resources, and suggestions to keep your headspace in good shape. Wellness starts in the mind and spirit. Pick up your copy here and help your mind feel better.

Do you struggle to cope with any of the above? Are the holidays challenging for you too? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and blessed holiday full of health. Always here for you –

Caroline

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