Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Handling the Holiday Blues

Dec 10, 2014

By Victor S. Sierpina, MD

This is the time of year when everyone is acting cheerful and happy, so why do I feel blue? Just know you are not alone. Although the holiday blues are common, they may seem paradoxical in just the time of the year when we are in the midst of planning to enjoy friends, family, feasts, and fun.

In fact, this is not always such a cheerful time for some. Those who have lost family members, those who are financially stretched, or already feel their life activities are too stressful may not look forward to the holidays. Seasonal affective disorder can also contribute to the holiday blues, as can unrealistic expectations that everything will go perfectly with holiday plans. These thoughts and feelings may even be internalized as chest pain (heartache), headache (anger), or backache (financial support worries).

In order to ward off the holiday blues, consider some approaches from the psychological technique called CBT or Cognitive Behavior Therapy. It is based on the principle that the thoughts we hold, how we feel, and how we behave are all tightly connected. One leads to another. So if we start with a negative, inaccurate, or distorted thought, our emotions — and thus our actions — will follow.

CBT involves these steps:

1. Examine and reflect on the situation that led automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). Ask what is the source of the negative thought and ask if it is true.

2. Challenge your thinking and reflect on the likely outcomes of continuing such negative thoughts.

3. Develop an alternative inner dialogue or script that is based on Positive Energizing Thoughts (PETs) that are affirming and more reality-based.

4. Take the long view by taking action by continuing to focus your mind PETs instead of ANTs.

For example, instead of a series of Automatic Negative Thought such as:

Oh no, here come the holidays.

 I already feel overwhelmed with all I have to do at work and home.

I don’t know where I’ll come up with money for presents.

I expect that all my family will have a perfect experience.

We never get along.

 Just too much!

By examining these negative thoughts, you have a chance to challenge them. Are there really outside stressors or are they perhaps self-imposed? Instead of expensive presents, maybe some simple tokens, home made baked goods, or crafts might be just as good and better appreciated. Even though the holidays put a lot of pressure on families to solve any conflicts and make everything right, in fact, these expectations put more pressure on everyone rather than allowing them to just enjoy each other.

So, an alternative script or Positive Energizing Thought might read as follows:

I look forward to the holidays as a break in my routine, a chance to enjoy life from a different perspective, of gratitude, sharing, and companionship.

While not everything will be perfect, I know that I will do my best to make it a wonderful time for friends, family, and myself.

I anticipate a time filled with love, peace, and true joy, not just about giving and receiving material things. 

We will all have a wonderful holiday season.

 I am confident that I can not only cope, but thrive during this holiday season

Repeating such positive energizing thoughts mentally can energize rather than depress you. This process can create more realistic expectations, and provide an emotional state better chance for true holiday joy.