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Un-happy holidays?

Allina Health psychologist shares how to turn around the ‘holiday blues’

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It’s the holiday season. Everyone should feel happy. Right? Not really.

This seemingly joyful time often brings emotional turmoil, causing the "holiday blues."

“People often feel overwhelmed by time pressures and family demands, or they don’t feel good enough to participate in holiday cheer,” says Stephen Hjemboe, psychologist formerly with Allina Health. “They may even feel self-conscious about the lack of joy they feel.”  

What’s getting you down?

When the holiday blues bring you down, Hjemboe advises lowering expectations.

“Let yourself off the hook. You don’t have to satisfy everyone, or ‘do it all.’ Things will not go perfectly, and that’s okay,” he explains.

Identifying what’s making you feel down can help you come up with ways to deal with your feelings.

If stress is the culprit, keep things simple and meaningful. Scrap the big party and have just a few friends over.

Limit gift giving. Draw names if you have a lot of people on your list.

“Expensive gifts are less meaningful than warm moments shared with others,” says Hjemboe. “Your kids won’t hate you for not fulfilling their gift list. Respect your budget and stay within it.”

If you dread family gatherings, set realistic expectations. A brief holiday season can't make your life perfect, nor make difficult people act differently.

It’s okay to lessen contact with certain family members or friends. “This is especially important when people have been abusive or toxic and where relationships are still strained,” says Hjemboe.

“Graciously decline in a way that doesn’t offend. For example, you could simply say you are sorry but you have prior commitments or that you’re not able to attend this year.”

If loneliness or sadness is the issue, reach out. Contact local volunteer agencies to find out how you can take part in serving meals to those in need, distribute gifts to children, etc.

If you have friends nearby, let them know you'd like to see them. Sometimes people get so caught up in their own holiday rush that they don't realize you have no place to go.

Depression or anxiety can make you want to avoid social contact altogether. “This isn’t usually a good idea. Others may be offended or concerned, and you may weaken your connections with the important people in your life,” says Hjemboe.

“Focus on knowing that others care about you, even if you aren’t the life of the party.”

If you're mourning a loved one, remember him or her. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Have a quiet meditation.

Although it might feel a little uncomfortable at first, get together with others. Remembering a loved one together can make the holiday more meaningful and help you feel connected to each other.

You also may find comfort and connection through a grief support group.

When to get help

“When you feel you really can’t cope with everything coming at you and you can’t get out of it, you are at real risk for depression or anxiety,” says Hjemboe.

Talk with your primary care provider about how you're feeling. You may be referred to a mental health professional.

If holidays tend to bring you down, your counselor or therapist can help you come up with ways to make them something to look forward to.

“Holidays can be rewarding times,” says Hjemboe. “It’s not the perfect party that’s remembered as much as the joy and love that people share. Those are feelings and memories that can follow us throughout the year.”

Content Source: Mental Health America; National Institute of Mental Health
Review Date: 12/21/2012
Reviewed By: Stephen Hjemboe, PhD, LP, Allina Medical Clinic - Cottage Grove

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