Dealing with the Holiday Blues

Q: I feel depressed around the holidays every year. How can I enjoy the season and feel happier like everyone else?

A: It's not uncommon to feel a little (or a lot) "blue" during the holidays. Many factors can contribute to this problem, including the stress of the holidays themselves—all the extra shopping and responsibilities, financial stress, house guests or travel, parties and the overdrinking and overeating often associated with them…the list goes on. For many, the holidays (or birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) evoke unpleasant memories or resentments connected to past holidays, or make us especially aware of our own loneliness, dissatisfactions, or other unpleasant feelings.

But often one of the biggest stressors is our expectation that the holidays should be a happy, harmonious and enjoyable time—as if the holidays have some magic ability to change our lives. Or maybe you look at other people who seem to be enjoying themselves a lot more than you are, and you wonder what's wrong with you. Most likely, those other people are looking at you the same way, and wondering why they don't feel as good as you seem to. Most of us keep our unpleasant feelings and thoughts to ourselves, and end up comparing our own "insides" to other people's "outsides." All of this just adds to our holiday blues.

The first step towards finding more enjoyment in the holiday season is to forget all the expectations and put the negative self-analysis on the back burner for a while. Instead, decide who and what is really important to you during the holiday season, and figure out how you can honor those priorities and commitments in a positive way, without stretching yourself too thin.

If you're feeling overly stressed by all the demands on your time or budget, it's OK to say no to a few invitations or to just call some relatives instead of inviting them over to dinner or sending presents. At the other end of the spectrum, if you're feeling lonely or disconnected, volunteer to help serve dinner at your local homeless shelter or church, or get involved in some community service project that appeals to you. It's very hard to feel blue when you're doing something like that.

And don't forget to include yourself on your list of people who need special attention during the holidays. Make sure you save enough time for you to do the things that make you feel good, like healthy eating and exercise, whatever you do for relaxation and your spiritual practices.