The pressure to be holiday jolly seems to strike as soon as Black Friday shopping begins. And it’s not your normal level, or set-point as they say, of happy; the world expects happy to go up a notch or two – and that your extra-happy mood will last through the holidays.
For some that happens almost naturally. Just the season of Christmas and other winter holidays have a magical quality that creates smiles. For some, it’s nostalgic memories of the past. For some, it’s the hope of creating future memories. And for some, it’s just the ambiance of the season. But whatever the reason, the holidays bring a smile to the face of many just because.
But many people are challenged by the holiday blues, for either all or part of the holiday season. Even if you don’t personally feel the holiday blues, you will most likely encounter people who do.
What causes the holiday blues?
It’s as varied as the people dealing with them. But some common reasons include:
The Perfect Holiday Expectation: Unless you have a large staff (think Martha Stewart), and even then it would be questionable, no one lives a perfect holiday season. Holidays are full of chaos due to ever-changing circumstances. Set realistic expectations. Every room doesn’t have to be decorated. Every meal doesn’t have to be cooked from scratch. Every present doesn’t have to be elaborately wrapped. You don’t need to get everyone you know an elaborate gift or even a token gift (in fact, you need to keep a budget so you don’t get post-holiday blues).
The other perfect holiday expectations happen when people don’t have the ideal friends and family situation. The truth is most people don’t have the “perfect” family. But some have more challenges than others. Many people spend the holidays alone. Many people spend the holidays with families that are anything but entertainingly dysfunctional, and instead are depressing and stressful.
If any of these is your challenge, try to do something on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day that at least doesn’t add to the blues. Have a non-holiday movie marathon, read a new book by your favorite author, visit a local senior care facility (someone there was left alone for the holidays), or make plans with a friend or distance relative in the same boat. It’s vital that you make a plan to do something you enjoy so you’re not just pondering your less-than-ideal situation.
The Holiday To-Do List: In December, we try to squeeze in an abundance of activities including visits with friends and families. You can’t see everyone you know. Try to reduce some of the to-dos by being realistic about your time line. If someone you’re trying to meet up with lives close by, schedule lunch or dinner or a walk in January. Consider a holiday theater performance or movie between Christmas and the New Year. Host a casual open house from say 2 – 4, so guests don’t camp out for the night. Invite local friends to stop by for wine and cheese. Try to plan with your head, not just your heart. You still need sleep.
Life Changes: Sometimes the blues are brought on by life changes that happened during the year. Maybe someone close passed away, maybe you had a significant relationship change, maybe your financial situation changed for the unhappier or maybe you had a health change. These changes can cause you to spend time pondering the past from a perspective of “why did the bad thing happen?” crowding out happy memories. You need to let yourself feel the sad, but try to do something new that will help you create new happy memories for your current circumstances. It might be a great time to start new traditions like going on a holiday vacation, visiting a friend or relative, volunteering, visiting a new church or kicking off your New Year’s resolution of getting healthier in December.
If you’re feeling blue, whatever you do, don’t pretend to be holiday happy. Feel what you’re feeling but make an effort to recognize and celebrate when your happy moments happen, holiday related or not. Remember that you can take steps to either reduce the holiday blues culprits or do happy things to create new holiday memories. This might be trial and error – so if one thing doesn’t work try something different.
Despite the perception, there isn’t a holiday jolly requirement. You can be “bah-humbug!” if that makes you happy – just try not to rain on other people’s parades. However, since happiness is contagious, spending time with family, friends or possibly strangers who naturally have that holly jolly might boost your spirits.
Last, this bears saying: If you never get momentary reprieves from your holiday blues, seek professional help because people do care and you aren’t alone.