6 Steps to Beat the Holiday Blues
By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D.
We all know someone who feels down around the “holidays,” sometime from Thanksgiving in November to after the New Year. Maybe that person is you.
Don’t give up hope though. The truth is that no one has to suffer from the Holiday Blues. We need first to understand the root causes and how to address them, and gain a clearer understanding of the true meaning of Christmas and how to celebrate it. While there may be hundreds of causes for the Holiday Blues, I have broken them down into six basic categories:
Loneliness. The holidays are a time to spend with loved ones – spouses, family, friends, sweethearts, etc. However, for those who don’t have many loved ones in their lives, the holidays can be a painfully lonely time. Fortunately, the holiday season is a wonderful time to rekindle old relationships and start new ones. Call or write to people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Invite them to coffee. To develop new friends, join a club, volunteer, or sing in a choir. There are lots of creative ways to expand your circle of friends. All it requires is the willingness to take the risk to reach out.
Grief. Because the holidays are a time to spend with loved ones, they can be particularly painful when one has recently lost a loved one. My mother passed away two years ago, and that first Christmas without her was very painful. This is when it’s important to surround yourself with loved ones. It’s okay let people know you are still grieving and in a lot of pain. Let family and friends help you through this difficult time. While you may always miss your loved one, and especially during the holidays, the pain does decrease with time. You may eventually find yourself enjoying the holidays again.
Family Tensions. Many people dread the holidays because it means spending time with family members they don’t get along with. The Christmas season is a time of peace and good will. It’s a time to forgive and make amends with others who have hurt you or those whom you have hurt. Yet it’s okay to set boundaries with family members. In some situations, it’s better not to spend the holidays with people you don’t get along with. It might just make Christmas more enjoyable for you and your family.
Painful Memories. It may be difficult to enjoy Christmas if your childhood memories are painful or traumatic. This can happen for the person who grew up in a home plagued by abuse, addiction, sickness or poverty. Healing past memories is needed to enjoy Christmas in the present and the future. For this, I recommend professional counseling. You don’t need to be haunted by painful memories. Healing is possible! Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Excessive Responsibility. Many people get stressed out during the holidays because of the excessive responsibilities they place on themselves. They feel they must send Christmas cards to all their friends and relatives every year, bake several dozen cookies, decorate every room in the house, hang Christmas lights outside that will illuminate the entire neighborhood, go into credit card debt purchasing Christmas gifts for everyone they know, host a Christmas party for the neighbors, and do all the cooking for Christmas dinner. This can only lead to total exhaustion. However, these people feel obligated to do all these things because they believe they will somehow disappoint everyone if they don’t.
If you are this type of person, my advice is to let go of this sense of obligation and do less. You are not responsible for ensuring that everyone has a happy Christmas. By letting go of excessive responsibility, you can have a much happier Christmas yourself.
Unreasonable Expectations. Many people are disappointed every Christmas because it didn’t turn out as they hoped it would. Every year they hope to have the perfect “Norman Rockwell” Christmas. When we let go of unreasonable expectations for Christmas, we can learn to appreciate and enjoy the Christmas we actually get. We can accept family and friends for who they are, warts and all, and we can be truly thankful.
The most important factor for enjoying the holiday season is remembering the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I often see signs and bumper stickers at Christmas that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” We all need to remember this. I recommend taking time every day to think about the true meaning of Christ’s coming. Don’t let the busyness and commercialism of Christmas make you forget why we celebrate. Be sure to share the true meaning with others too, even if it means appearing politically incorrect. By learning how to effectively deal with life’s challenges and remembering the true meaning of Christmas, we can beat the Holiday Blues and enjoy a truly blessed Christmas season.
Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, Pa. His website is MaritalHealing.com