Holiday Blues: How to Cope with Your Stress & Anxiety
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This article will review the symptoms, causes, and management of holiday blues. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, irritability, feelings of worry, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep, appetite, or weight changes.
What is holiday blues?
Holiday blues are a set of symptoms including depression and anxiety that occur during the holiday season. Holiday blues are usually distinguished from full clinical psychiatric diagnoses such as major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or seasonal affective disorder, which have specific diagnostic criteria in terms of the type and duration of symptoms. However, holiday blues can cause some of the symptoms that can be seen in these disorders.
These symptoms include depression or irritability, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, anxiety, or worry, a loss of interest in hobbies, changes in appetite, weight, or sleep, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of harming oneself or others.
Treatment includes open communication with loved ones, creating clear goals, expectations, and limits for oneself, as well as potential support from mental health professionals.
You do not need treatment at this time. If your symptoms worsen or last longer than a month, it is recommended you see your physician for further evaluation.
Holiday blues symptoms
The main symptoms of holiday blues will impact your mood and demeanor, such as the following.
- Depressed or irritable mood: You may feel less happy than usual, and may easily feel upset or discouraged.
- Feeling more tired than usual: You may have less energy than you usually do.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: For example, you may feel guilty about not spending enough time with friends and family, or you may feel worthless when comparing yourself to others if you perceive them as more successful.
- Loss of pleasure or interest in doing things that you used to enjoy: You may lose interest in certain hobbies or activities.
- Feeling tense, worried, or anxious: You may be worried about specific things, or feel like you are worried all the time without having specific things to worry about.
Other symptoms that may have more widespread effects on those with holiday blues may include the following.
- Change in appetite or weight: This could either be an increase or decrease in appetite with a corresponding weight gain or weight loss.
- Change in sleep patterns: This could either be an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia) or feeling the need to sleep excessively.
- Difficulty concentrating: You may feel like you are in a mental fog.
- Thoughts of hurting oneself or suicide: Holiday blues alone usually does not cause a person to have thoughts of hurting themselves or committing suicide. However, if this occurs, this may be a sign of a more serious psychiatric condition that can be treated with the guidance of a professional psychiatrist and/or therapist. It has also been rumored that suicide rates are higher around the holiday season, which actually isn’t true.
Holiday blues causes
A number of factors can contribute to the development of holiday blues, detailed below.
Time and environmental changes
Changes in the time and environment during the holidays may contribute to the development of holiday blues. These include the decreased duration of natural light during the day, mismatches between the body’s natural circadian rhythm (“biologic clock”) and the external schedule, and decreased time spent outdoors. These can cause mood symptoms especially if you have a history of depression or other psychiatric disorders.
Increased social demands
Increased social demands during the holidays can create stress and lead to symptoms of holiday blues. These include scheduling meetings and gatherings with many groups of friends, trying to find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones, and taking care of others. These demands can leave little time to take care of yourself, leading to decreased self-care, which can exacerbate holiday blues symptoms.
Excess eating and alcohol use
Excess eating and alcohol use during the holidays can lead to symptoms of holiday blues. Excess eating and weight gain can worsen one’s self-image and make one feel guilty about a lack of self-control. In addition, alcohol use can exacerbate psychiatric symptoms, especially in people with a history of an underlying psychiatric disorder.
Lack of sleep
Busy holiday schedules and activities can lead to a lack of sleep, which increases stress and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Unrealistic expectations about oneself
The holidays can create unrealistic expectations about yourself that can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety if you perceive you are falling behind. For example, meeting other people who appear to be more successful can lead you to feel bad about your own achievements. In addition, many holiday movies and stories show images of perfectly happy lives and families that may not be realistic but can lead you to feel unsatisfied with your own situation.
Treatment options and prevention for holiday blues
Speak with a friend or loved one
One way to help alleviate symptoms of holiday blues is to speak with a friend or loved one. People who experience symptoms of holiday blues sometimes withdraw to themselves, but this can actually exacerbate the symptoms by creating feelings of loneliness. Speaking with a friend or loved one can help you better process your feelings and connect you with sources of support.
Set realistic goals and expectations and stick to a plan
Setting realistic goals and expectations can help mitigate some of the sources of stress that can lead to the holiday blues. For example, you should be realistic about how much time and money you can spend on others, and don’t be afraid to say no if you feel over-extended. Making a clear plan and sticking to it can help avoid some of the stress of last-minute planning and responsibilities.
Create time for yourself
It is important to create time for yourself to de-stress and recharge. Allow time to do things you enjoy and let yourself say no to others to accommodate it — and don’t feel bad or be afraid to do so.
Limit excessive eating and alcohol intake
Limiting excessive eating and alcohol intake can help avoid some of the symptoms that these behaviors can cause. You can do this by setting clear limits for yourself before large events and being honest with yourself about sticking to those limits. Consider asking one of your friends or loved ones to help hold you accountable.
See a mental healthcare provider
If you are experiencing many symptoms of holiday blues, or more serious symptoms such as thoughts of suicide, you should consider seeing a mental healthcare provider such as a psychiatrist or a therapist. If your symptoms are consistent with a clinical disorder such as major depression, you may benefit from antidepressant medications and/or psychotherapy.
When to seek further consultation for holiday blues
If you experience any symptoms of holiday blues
If you feel like you cannot manage your feelings on your own or they seem more serious to you than emotions you normally experience, you should see your doctor or a mental healthcare provider. The doctor can evaluate your symptoms to see if your symptoms are consistent with a clinical disorder, and offer the appropriate treatment.
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others
If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, you should contact your doctor or call 911 right away. You can also consider calling the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) or chat online, which is confidential and available 24 hours every day.
Questions your doctor may ask to determine holiday blues
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
- Are you sick enough to consider going to the emergency room right now?
- How fatigued are you?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Is your fatigue getting any better or worse?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Liu received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and is pursuing a career in ophthalmology. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College with a BA in biology. He has published research in multiple ophthalmology and healthcare journals and has received awards from Research to Prevent Blindness. In his free time, he enjoys running, biking, and spending time with his friends and family.