Navigating the Festive Season: Strategies to Avoid the Holiday Blues

A woman joyfully wraps a gift in front of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
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The holiday season is often associated with joy, celebrations and togetherness. However, this time of year can also bring about feelings of stress, loneliness or sadness. Whether due to family dynamics, financial pressures, being away from loved ones or starting sobriety, experiencing the holiday blues is more common than often acknowledged.

The good news is that with proactive steps and self-care practices, it’s possible to navigate this time of year with a focus on mental well-being and positivity. Let’s learn more about the holiday blues, why they happen and how you can thrive this holiday season.

What are the Holiday Blues?

Also known as holiday depression, the holiday blues refer to feelings of sadness that occur during the holiday season. And, it’s not that uncommon. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent of people with an existing mental illness say that the holidays make their condition worse.

There are a number of reasons why the holiday blues occur in some individuals. The holidays come with a lot of unique factors such as:

  • Hectic schedules and less sleep
  • Excess eating and alcohol use
  • Financial stress from buying gifts
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Difficult family dynamics
  • Changes in routine/schedule
  • Missing friends and family

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Holiday Depression?

Holiday depression is sometimes confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), so it’s important to recognize the difference, as there are different treatment protocols. Holiday depression typically starts around November or December and lifts shortly after the New Year. Symptoms are also relatively mild.

SAD, on the other hand, has more severe and debilitating symptoms that typically last about 40 percent of the year. The symptoms start in the fall and ease up in the spring or summer.

Signs that you may be dealing with the holiday blues include:

  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling guilty or unworthy
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Lack of interest in the things you usually enjoy

Tips for Dealing with the Holiday Blues in Recovery

Managing the holiday blues is difficult enough on its own, let alone when you’ve just completed drug and alcohol rehab. The first holiday in sobriety will likely look different, so you may be feeling especially anxious. Will you be able to enjoy the holidays? What will friends and family say? How will you have fun? 

Remember to take things one step at a time. You have come so far already – you can navigate the holidays successfully using the tools you have.

Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings

First, acknowledge and accept any feelings of sadness, stress or loneliness that may arise. It’s okay not to feel entirely festive during the holidays. Emotions are valid and part of the human experience. Pushing away your feelings will only cause them to creep up later on.

Also, avoid comparing your holiday experience to idealized versions portrayed in the media or on social platforms. Everyone’s situation is unique, and it’s okay if your celebrations differ from perceived norms. Plus, what you see online or on TV is usually not all it seems.

Practice Self-Care and Stress Management

Establish realistic goals and expectations for the holiday season. Focus on what you can control and prioritize activities that bring you joy rather than feeling obligated to participate in everything.

Additionally, incorporate stress-relief techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing exercises or meditation into your daily routine. These practices can help alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation.

Connect and Engage with Others

If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, seek connection by reaching out to friends, family or support groups. Virtual gatherings, phone calls or volunteering can provide a sense of community and belonging as you navigate the holidays sober.

Also, consider starting new holiday traditions that align with your current circumstances or interests. Engaging in activities that bring personal fulfillment can help shift focus away from negative feelings.

Financial Planning and Boundaries

Financial strain during the holidays can contribute to stress. Set a realistic budget and avoid overspending to alleviate financial pressures. There is no need to go into debt for a single day of the year. Christmas is about much more than presents!

You should also set boundaries to protect your mental health. It’s okay to decline invitations or limit time spent in situations that may trigger negative emotions or stress.

Embrace Gratitude and Giving

Reflect on the positives in your life and practice gratitude. Focusing on what you’re thankful for can shift your perspective and boost mood. Engaging in acts of kindness or volunteering can also provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Giving back to others in need can bring joy and meaning during the holiday season.

Holiday Blues Persisting? Seek Professional Support.

If feelings of sadness or depression persist and significantly impact your daily life, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Therapy or counseling can offer guidance and strategies to navigate the holiday blues and improve overall well-being. Pura Vida Recovery remains open during the holidays – we are here to help! Contact us today!