~Gryt Health Team
Ah, the holiday. A time for joy, family, and festivities. However, for many people, the time from Thanksgiving to the New Year can be anything but magical.
Welcome to what most call “The Holiday Blues.”
NAMI reports that “64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse”. Now, while the Holiday Blues are different from mental illness- even short-term mental health problems should be taken seriously.
The holiday season is a rough time for many people for a variety of reasons. However, when you add in dealing with a chronic, life-threatening, and/or terminal diagnosis, they can be especially challenging. The holiday blues affect people regardless of their religious affiliations.
These “blues” are often triggered by loneliness, stress, and anxiety triggered by a number of things that happen during the holiday season. About half of the people polled by a global investment company, the Principal Financial Group, in 2017 said that financial stresses were the primary contributing factor. Other factors that can contribute to feeling the holiday blues are
- Current events
- Personal grief
- Separation from loved ones
- Lack of time for all of the holiday-related activities
- Travel-related stressors
- Significant routine changes (that can lead to an individual not taking care of themselves as they normally would)
- Varieties of relationship issues (with friends, family and/or significant others)
- Past traumatic experiences such as receiving a diagnosis, having a traumatic event or losing a loved one
While some people may be toting the lines of It’s a Wonderful Life, many others are feeling more like the first half of The Grinch that Stole Christmas.
A 2017 article from Psychology today shared that one survey by the American Psychological Association uncovered interesting data about the holiday blues:
- While the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.
- Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed said their stress levels increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.
- Surprisingly, 56 percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work. Only 29 percent experienced greater amounts of stress at home.
As of that same Psychology Today article, while the holiday blues are a real phenomenon, there was no clinical data to back up the findings of various polls. By clinical data, they were referring to randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews. The informal data suggests it would be a great topic for future research.
Much of the Gryt Health Team has experienced a variety of mental health challenges throughout our lives, especially since dealing with our various physical health diagnoses. We have figured out our own tips and tricks on how to deal with the holiday blues when we are triggered. We’ve decided to share them with you here.
- Do whatever it takes. America has a culture of “how it looks” instead of how it is. I am still combatting this. However, when there’s a need, I go into my basement and scream. It would look silly in a movie or on social media, but it works for me, so I do it where no one can see me. My gift to you this holiday season is permission.
- Tap out whenever. Were you really excited to go to a Christmas Market/Holiday Event/Family member’s home, but you got there, and you couldn’t bring yourself to go in? Well, I’m sure you look super cute in your outfit, and you made it farther than if you hadn’t. Man, this sounds glib, but if you lean into it, it’s not.
- Make a list of things you can legitimately do. I have major social anxiety, so big events aren’t possible, but I can do things one to one or in small groups.
- Errands are for friends: if people are too busy, and you’re able, accompany them on their shopping trips. You get out of the house, exercise, and time with your friend.
- Make your favorite food. While there are traditional meals, it’s a time for celebrating, so do what makes you happy. Make new traditions. Do the thing that feels holiday-ish to you, even alone.
- Go outside. It will seem really hard, almost impossible sometimes, but go outside. Being inside, in your home, where the feelings may be the strongest, can contribute to depression.
- Plan to do the things you enjoy during the holidays. Like baking? Bake what you enjoy. Can’t eat it? Donate it. Like watching cheesy holiday movies by yourself? Go for it. Plan time to do the holiday things that bring you joy to balance the things that bring you less joy (or even stress). What are the ways you like to care for yourself?
- I always baked way too many things and donated everything.
- It’s okay not to enjoy the holidays. They can be full of stress, lots of things to do, bad weather, and financially draining. Allow yourself permission to not enjoy these things.
- It’s okay to miss people who are gone (or will be), to be stressed, to be annoyed that your family is coming, and you have to spend 3 days cleaning your house. All of those feelings are okay.
- If you’re far away from family (like Jim and I were for many years), use free web conferencing services to feel close to them. We sang Christmas songs, read to the kiddos, and did plenty over Zoom. It wasn’t the same, but it was much closer than not being able to do anything with our families at all.
- Try lowering expectations of yourself. I always expect that I’m going to do so many things (the most decorations, 15 different kinds of cookies, homemade/customized gifts, and more). Let yourself off the hook a little and know it’s okay.
- Schedule a check-in with someone when you are feeling well for a few days out. When you are feeling at your lowest, you may not reach out or feel like you can reach out.
- Make an entirely new tradition that brings you joy. This doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the holiday itself, as long as it brings you happiness. I always, always, always make Jim homemade biscuits and gravy because it makes us both happy. Not at all a holiday dish–still enjoy it. We do it every year.
- Resource for finding a therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists can search by state, insurance, challenge, etc.
- I live close to a Metropark with lots of trails, a large lake, and a lily pond. I like to go for walks there when my emotions are getting too strong, and I need to decompress.
- Just laying in bed with my headphones on, eyes closed, and my favorite music playing really helps. The headphones part is important because they block out all other sounds and distractions. Most of the time, I also have the lights off.
- Here are some apps I have that are good at helping me relax:
- Searching for local events through my library and Facebook have also helped find a community of people with similar interests. It’s tough and awkward at first because I’m so introverted, but over time it’s really helped to find people with the same interests and make connections / get me out of the house every once in a while.
- Note: You can also find quite a few free online events through Facebook if leaving the house is too much of a health risk.
- Eventbrite or Meetup can also be good resources.
- Getting out. That could be going on a walk, sitting outside, putting on a jacket, and getting out in the rain for a bit. Just step away and get out for a little bit.
- Listening to podcasts. I bounce around based on my mood. I have book-reading podcasts I listen to, hockey, Magic: The Gathering, etc.
- Freewriting. I use https://sprinter.getfreewrite.com/ as a 15-minute, no-distraction, write-whatever-is-on-my-mind tool. Nine times out of ten, I feel calmer and more centered after I’m done with my 15 minutes.
- If you’re going out and aren’t looking forward to it but don’t feel like you can cancel, take some time to get ready. I don’t just mean to shower and make your appearance nice but also mentally prepare yourself. Put on music, lite a candle, and think about just one thing you’re looking forward to about this trip. Maybe it’s seeing a friend, eating food you don’t have to prepare, or even just that you get to look at holiday decorations on the drive.
- If you are in treatment and worried about the food where you’re going, eat something before you go or bring a dish to pass that you know will agree with your stomach
- Dress in layers! I would go from being chemo cold to having a hot flash, and while that’s rough on its own, it’s harder when you’re not at home.
- Ask for help! Whether it’s shopping for holiday gifts, shopping for food, cleaning the house, or whatever you need or would make your life easier, ask for help.
- Happy tears are my lifeblood, so my best recommendation to help you combat feeling blue is to do something that brings a smile to someone’s face.
- I’ve really never loved the holidays. I don’t know if it’s because my birthday is 10 days before Christmas or if I was just never into being festive. With that being said, my mom loved the holidays…the decorating, the cooking, and most importantly, the baking! So, in the past, I really didn’t care if I missed being home for a holiday. However, this holiday season is the first one without my mom so no chapstick and gift cards in my stocking, no wrapped presents that we actually picked out together, no holiday-themed cocktail, no going overboard with appetizers before dinner, and none of my mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. I wonder to myself, “will my mom being gone make me more indifferent and even less interested in the holidays than before?”
- Avoid social media!!! It can be really detrimental to ‘see’ and compare yourself to others and their families and their “perfect” lives in matching family pj’s.
- Allow yourself to feel the feelings…it’s OKAY to feel sad, lonely, or depressed. Sometimes, we need to indulge in our own pity party.
- Go do something you enjoy – walking the dog, chatting with an old friend, watching movies, binging a TV show, painting, going to volunteer…any type of activity, it does not have to be related to or focused on the holidays
- Being around friends and family for the holidays can be draining, so plan your day out and have an ‘escape plan’ of sorts. This might sound bad, but I like having “excuses” made up in my mind before going to a social event. I’m prepared with excuses that are both cancer-related and not cancer-related.
- The only obligation you have is to yourself. Do only what brings you joy during the season, and you do not owe ANYONE any explanations. “No” is a complete sentence, so is “I’m not coming,” or “I’m not doing [this particular thing].”
- Journal – the old-fashioned way – even if you don’t normally do so. Many people don’t know how to have conversations about “unpleasant” feelings, especially during the holidays when everyone “should” be happy. Journaling allows you to express all of those feelings without the anxiety of having to convey them to people who don’t understand where you’re coming from. The physical act of writing helps express some of the physical energy that those feelings have as well as the feelings you may have about expressing your feelings. If you’re concerned about other people reading what you wrote, burn the pages afterward. You don’t have to hold onto anything that you write, and the burning can also be a great release.
- This is the first time that I won’t be able to spend the holidays with my family. I’m unable to travel right now due to a few different factors (some within and some outside of my control), and I’m really struggling with self-loathing. I’m also really struggling to navigate conversations with family and friends about why I won’t see them this holiday season. What I’m doing/remembering to try to help myself right now that hasn’t been mentioned already by Lauren, Christian, and Amy:
- Just because they’re your “family” doesn’t mean you owe them anything. Your true family is composed of the people you choose, which may include relatives or not. Just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean you’re forced to give them gifts, your time, or your presence, especially if they’re making you feel lesser.
- If you’re missing someone a lot, try doing something that you would have done together to help warm your heart a little.
- For example, my late uncle loved being out in nature, especially in the Tetons. When I miss him a lot, I’ll enjoy the mountains and think of our good times together.
It is important to note that there is a difference between the holiday blues and more severe depression. The holiday blues generally subside with the holiday season and are over when the holidays pass. More severe depression generally lasts much longer and often interferes with daily activities.
Even people who do not typically deal with issues of anxiety, depression, or loneliness can experience the holiday blues.
If the holiday season passes and you are still struggling with anxiety, loneliness, and/or depression, it is advisable to consult a medical professional for assistance.
In the comment section below, share with us the things that work for you to help keep yourself thriving during the holiday season.
Below is information shared by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) for what you should do if you are in a mental health crisis. (Taken from their page. The link is below under RESOURCES.)
What To Do In An Emergency
Need Immediate Help In An Emergency?
If you or a loved one is in immediate danger calling 911 and talking with the police may be necessary. It is important to notify the operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for police officers trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.
Need Immediate Help In A Crisis?
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – Dial or text 988 if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis, and get connected to a trained crisis counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Crisis counselors listen empathetically and without judgment. Your crisis counselor will work to ensure that you feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area.
988 is the new, shorter phone number that will make it easier for people to access mental health crisis services.
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) to reach trained expert advocates who are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.