As we approach the holiday season, the colors we associate with the times are typically reds and greens. But if you are one of the many who identify more with the blues, you are not alone. The “Holiday Blues” are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression through the Christmas and New Year weeks. As, by nature, they are feelings related to the holiday season, they commonly recede after the holidays are over. Differing from clinical depression or anxiety, these issues are transient by nature, but still important to recognize.
Many of us experience high spirits and happiness. But a subset of these same people may also suffer from some degree of holiday blues, and symptoms may vary in intensity. Commonly, feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, exhaustion, and sadness may be perceived. For many, work stressors increase before the actual holiday times. Many carry this extra stress with them as they experience time crunches with their schedules and overspending their budgets. Others have issues with priorities of their social commitments, discontent with the increasing commercial pressures of the season, and the strain of family gatherings. There is also the contribution of the physiologic response due to the shortest days and colder climate of the season, medically known as Seasonal Affect Disorder, or SAD.
We are as well facing our first Pandemic Holiday Season, which is a definite contributor to our upcoming emotional strain. After months of thirsting for social exposures and comradery, we are additionally encouraged to now restrict holiday gatherings, be it avoiding travel or limiting the number of holiday celebrants to the immediate “pod” family. Many of us have restricted employment or have lost our jobs altogether. As the federal stimulus money is nothing more than a faint memory, so many are financially constrained, lucky to pay the rent or groceries let alone seasonal gifts. For those of us who will be missing family due to these constraints, there are some who will be missing family forever now, those who have succumbed to the disease. With all these strikes against us, can we make it through the upcoming holidays?
Recognition of these symptoms may warrant a visit to your doctor. Although it is not common to need medication to weather through these issues, there may be help with learning some behavioral management skills. Being aware that your feelings may be a normal response to the times, there are some activities that may improve your coping skills. Limiting your alcohol intake may offer a substantial improvement to your responses. As one or two beverages may be acceptable, more than that at any one time may worsen the tendency of depression. Reaching out to a friend and being honest about your feelings and concerns may garner some support. Regular exercise can improve you attitude as both a stress reliever as well as removing you from the immediate environment that you are associating with your melancholy. Even making a short walk daily will contribute to keeping the blues at bay. Treat yourself to an activity you enjoy daily. Reading a chapter of a book, soaking in a hot tub, listening to a favorite musical artist, even for no longer than twenty or thirty minutes a day has shown to be significant.
It is important to be realistic regarding your outcomes. Not every holiday will be picture perfect. Try not to compare this upcoming season to holidays past. We grow older, family moves away and relocates, new people enter our life, things change. If you can recognize these signs or symptoms as they develop, this self-awareness can lead to your active control or avoidance of seasonal depression. It will take some effort, however. Enjoy the day, avoid unrealistic expectations with a pinch of reality in your expected outcomes, and do not let past performance be a predictor of future outcomes. Despite all these positive recommendations, should you feel the grasp of the holiday blues becoming oppressive, contact your health care professional at your first opportunity, even for a telemedicine visit. These are certainly challenging times for all of us, so please reach out if you need some support. We are all in this together. That said, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. But that is up to you.
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine