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12 Ways to Beat Back the Holiday Blues

It's okay to feel down during the holidays. Approximately 14% of Americans suffer from the holiday blues, also called "seasonal affective disorder."

Several factors usually contribute to this:

  • Shorter and darker days are becoming more common

  • Despite the cheery festivities, there is a feeling of loss or isolation associated with them

  • Holiday stressors such as excessive spending or more obligations from family or friends.

It is common for those who suffer from the holiday blues to experience a temporary and mild form of depression. In the absence of action, the problem could worsen. In light of this, it's important to be aware of the symptoms:

  • An unrelenting sadness

  • A feeling of boredom or disinterest in doing things

  • Having no appetite

  • A significant change in weight

  • Crying

  • A feeling of restlessness

  • Having a sense of worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

People who deal with this issue, often develop stress responses, like:

  • Headaches

  • Excessive drinking

  • Over-eating

  • Insomnia

  • Oversleeping

Thankfully, there are ways to beat back the holiday blues.

1. Be mindful of your own well-being.

There is no doubt that the holidays are a time for giving. However, that does not mean you should completely remove yourself from the equation. Instead, be an active participant.

Take a break every day, even for a half hour to recuperate. Exercise has also been found to help, with its anti-anxiety and anti-depressive properties. You can improve your mood by even doing a little exercise, such as parking farther away from the store.

Additionally, try to go to bed at a set time every night. A good night's sleep can improve your mood and make you feel more confident. And, don't forget to give yourself the gift of patience and generosity as well.

Overall, do whatever you love or what brings you fulfillment, whether that's exercising, enjoying a hobby, getting together with supportive people, or finding quiet time to meditate.

2. Change your image of the “perfect” holiday.

It's common for people to create an image in their minds of what an "ideal Christmas" (or holiday) would look like. Many of these visions are probably influenced by idealized childhood memories. However, they feel dissatisfied with the reality they're living in when they're unable to reproduce this vision.

Additionally, many people believe that the holiday season must be perfect; and, of course, perfection is impossible. Let go of your vision of a "Norman Rockwell Christmas" and be realistic about what you can accomplish during the holidays.

Remember to set achievable goals and to be kind to yourself, such as:

  • Make sure you don't cook a seven-course Christmas dinner alone for fourteen people.

  • Spend some alone time with your family rather than accepting every holiday party invitation you receive.

  • It's okay if you haven't seen your cousin three times removed in five years and don't feel like you have to buy a present for her.

3. Set healthy boundaries.

While many people find comfort and joy in family gatherings, those with family drama, trauma, or abuse histories may not always experience peace and harmony. The right thing to do is to say no if you know something is too difficult or triggering. You can also leave an event if you are uncomfortable.

Even though it is the holidays, you should take good care of yourself first and foremost.

4. Limit your alcohol consumption.

Make sure to limit your alcohol consumption and keep it away from your home. You should limit yourself to one or two drinks if you know alcohol will be available at a party. When you drink excessively, your mood can be affected and any negative feelings can be amplified.

5. (Re)read greeting cards.

“Greeting cards are a tradition on the way out of fashion, but if you got any, especially the ‘boring’ kind with yearly newsletters, read them,” suggests Margaret Wehrenberg, Psy.D. “Doing so will help you get into somebody else's memory bank for a while, instead of ruminating in your depression.”

Don't have any greeting cards? “Look at old letters or e-mails from friends and family from years past!,” adds Dr. Wehrenberg. “It could be fun to reread about someone's vacation to Peru or about the birth of a niece or nephew back-in-the-day.”

6. Get some Vitamin D.

SAD is a type of depression associated with the change in seasons. We no longer have enough sunlight to function well as the days become shorter and the nights longer.

You can reduce this by sitting in the sunlight for 30 minutes a day or by staring at specialty lights for short periods of time. You can also look outside your home's windows.

7. Avoid overeating.

Get your veggies in before heading out to a social event. Even filling up a small sandwich bag and snacking in the car is an option. Overeating can negatively impact your mood and health during holidays.

8. Take a break from TV and social media.

During this time of year, holiday movies and social media can create unrealistic expectations. Whenever our expectations don't match reality, we end up disappointed. Putting down your phone, turning off the TV, and taking a minute to breathe will help you relax.

9. Get together with your family and friends.

Spend the holidays with your friends and family instead of staying home alone. The more, the merrier.

Add lively decorations and inviting floral arrangements to your living space to make it more inviting.

10. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, get support.

It can be particularly difficult to celebrate the holidays if you have experienced the loss of a loved one. Spending time with your friends and family can be beneficial even though it can be tempting to isolate yourself and grieve. During this difficult time, they can provide you with support.

11. Start a new holiday tradition.

It doesn't matter how you spend your holidays.

In other words, if a tradition triggers negative memories, replace it with a new one. It's possible to make the holiday season more enjoyable by planning an outing or vacation rather than staying home. You empower yourself and change your outcome when you find new ways to celebrate.

12. Give back.

You can lift your mood by helping others, even when you don't feel like it, and remind yourself how fortunate you are. If you're interested in volunteering, contact local nonprofits.

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