The Holiday Blues

By Alan Brandis, Ph.D

... and we're not talking about Billie Holiday.

“The Holidays” have begun. Before candy and costumes were on the shelves, Christmas stuff was flooding the stores, as if no one could wait long enough to briefly tolerate Halloween and Thanksgiving en route to the big, important holidays (well, important to retailers at least).

Television and movies have made us expect great and fabulous things from The Holidays. We are inundated with images of happy, joyous people in close relationships having fun and doing exciting things together, with not a care in the world. Everyone gets along with each other in this fantasy world, and whenever someone has a problem or is down on their luck, by the end of the movie or TV episode everything has been worked out and everyone is content.

No, I don’t live in that world either. Like you, my world is full of people who don’t like each other, or who like to stir up conflict, or who make excuses for why they didn’t do what they said they would, again. In my world, sometimes there’s too much month left at the end of the money, sometimes we don’t get what we deserve, and sometimes things go wrong for no particularly good reason. If I compare my life to that of the people in the sitcom fantasy world, my life always suffers in the comparison. And focusing on that contrast is one really good way to end up disappointed, disillusioned and depressed.

The artificially high expectations that advertisers and media try to create around The Holidays just reinforces the feeling that something is wrong, something is missing, life is letting us down. As someone once told me, we compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides. And during The Holidays, everyone looks like they’re happy and festive. This festive mood we’re expected to emulate can really create an inner conflict, as we realize how differently we feel from how we are expected to feel.

Also, those of us who do not feel close to many others, but wish we had more close friends and family, have those life deficiencies “rubbed in our faces” a lot during The Holidays. A low-level, mild “garden variety” depression can become stronger and more disabling as a result of the Holiday Blues. Worse, we may not want to “ruin everyone’s fun” or be a burden to others by telling people what’s going on with us. We can end up “alone in a crowd,” feeling distant and unconnected even though we get invited to parties and gatherings.

If this is happening to you, it may be that the Holiday Blues are signaling you to take a closer look at your life and how you have set it up. True, there are some things you do not have control over, but you do have some control over a surprising number of situations, at least in terms of how you react to them. Here are some examples of things you can do to help yourself get through The Holidays:

  1. Take care of yourself, at least a little. Part of the stress of The Holidays comes from the fact that we take care of everyone else, nonstop. You must intentionally engineer in some “you” time, or it will not happen. Other responsibilities will intrude until the only thing you do for you is grab an extra piece of cake or have another glass of spiked eggnog – neither of which will contribute to a good outcome.
  2. Lower your expectations to a realistic level. You do not live in Mayberry, and your family is not the Cleavers (more like the Munsters, maybe?). There are still going to be squabbles, people are still going to be immature at times (yes, including you, your partner, your parents, and others). It is more important that everyone try to “go with the flow,” and you can show everyone what that looks like by doing it yourself, when you get disappointed.
  3. Don’t over-plan. Remember, everything takes more time than you expect and costs more, too. Two good activities that flow well and everyone enjoys are better than five poorly coordinated activities in which everyone is rushed, stressed and which turn out badly because important elements are forgotten or skimped on to save money.
  4. Write a letter to anyone you have issues with. (I am NOT suggesting that you send it.) Just writing it has several benefits, including getting relief from expressing negative feelings safely and helping you to clarify your feelings. Also, since you are NOT going to send it you can say anything you want to, with no fear of hurting the other person or making them angry. Be sure and burn or shred (or delete) it when you are done. If others find the letter it may cause more harm than the good that was done by writing it.
  5. Make a contribution. No not money (although that is good as well.) Contribute your time to help people less fortunate. There’s a reason so much charity work goes on during The Holidays – your neighbors get depressed, too. Getting “out of yourself” is a great way to feel useful, and increase your sense of gratitude for the positives in your life.

And, if none of that works – call us. We’ll help you get through The Holidays with a better outlook and a plan to take charge of your life to make it more satisfying, even if it doesn’t look like a TV show.