Author: Vanessa Villavicencio, Mental Health Director, Center for Human Services
The holiday season can bring complicated feelings to many of us. A season that is often advertised as joyful and filled with togetherness, may be quite difficult for some. In reality, it can be stressful and painful for many people within our family and communities. There are many factors that can contribute to experiencing the holiday blues. Some of these are related to the demands we put on ourselves in wanting to do it all, and the pressure to be with family.
Even if our family relationships are caring and close, spending extended periods of time together can be stressful. For some, family relationships may be broken or nonexistent which can bring intense feelings of grief and loss, loneliness, and increased feelings of disconnection. For others who may be struggling with substance use disorder, or another mental health issue, the holidays can make symptoms worse. This is not an exhaustive list of what can trigger the holiday blues however, it is important to note that mental health can suffer through this season if we don’t take time to become aware of our needs and find ways to take care of ourselves.
Another layer to consider is the changing weather. The cold and dark nights during the winter months can have an impact on most of us and if we are feeling vulnerable with all that the holiday season can bring, our moods may fluctuate toward sadness and farther away from optimism for the season. It is important to determine if our symptoms of feeling sad are caused by the holiday blues or by something more serious. Around the fall months, some individuals may begin to experience symptoms of sadness and depression that may last until the warmth returns. This is seasonal affective disorder or SAD, which can last longer than the holiday blues. SAD can bring more acute and debilitating symptoms that may not go away without depression treatment, and it is paramount that individuals search for support and care when the symptoms of depression are ongoing.
There are many ways that we can learn to manage the holiday blues. First, we need to consider our self-care and be aware about how our own routines may be disrupted by the season’s festivities and commitments. If struggling with the holiday blues, remember that you are not alone and resist the pressure to force yourself to be happy. It is okay to not be okay during the holidays!
Some tangible actions to consider during this time: create appropriate boundaries with time spent in with family and commitments; avoid using alcohol or other substances to regulate feelings of depression and anxiety as these can decompensate with increased use; connect with a support group with people who may be experiencing similarly; find a counselor or therapist; and surround yourself with friends who can support you during a difficult time. Remember that it is okay to prioritize self-care with self-compassion.
Center for Human Services (CHS) is also here to help. CHS offers FREE Mental Health Services through a grant from the City of Bothell. Services include mental health services to children, youth, adults, and families. Bothell location: 12900 NE 180th St. Suite 140 Bothell, WA 98011.