Advice for Coping with Holiday Blues

For many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for others – especially those struggling with mental illness, dealing with the death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc. – it’s anything but.  

With the days getting shorter and the temperatures dropping, you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder – a type of depression characterized by seasonal changes. Or, with buying presents and decorations and hosting parties, you may be feeling anxious about finances – especially with inflation reaching a 40-year high in 2022. And, if you’re mourning the death of a family member or friend, their absence may feel like an even bigger void.  

But you’re not alone. According to a survey by American Psychological Association, 38% of respondents said their stress increases during the holiday season. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with a mental illness report that their condition worsens this time of year.  

So, what can you do if the holidays aren’t feeling so joyful? 

Create new traditions

If you’ve lost a loved one, create new holiday traditions. 

My uncle’s birthday was Dec. 25 – and every year, we would go to his house to celebrate his birthday and Christmas. My grandma was there with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. But when my uncle died in 1995 and my grandma died in 1996, that was the first time my once favorite holiday felt tainted. By the time I was 11, I didn’t have any living grandparents, and each Christmas, I couldn’t help but be jealous of my peers who had grandparents to celebrate with. 

Since then, we’ve created new holiday traditions. My cousin took on hosting Christmas, and last year, my fiancé’s grandma gave me a card, calling me her granddaughter – the first time I had been called anyone’s grandchild in 23 years. 

For those who are mourning a loved one, I’m not saying that you’ll ever stop missing them, but, as the years go on, it will get easier. You may feel sad, but that doesn’t mean you have to be alone this season. Let your family and friends be there for you, and don’t feel guilty for carrying on your usual traditions or creating new ones. But also remember, you don’t have to pretend to be happy just because it’s the holidays. Take time for yourself, let yourself feel sad, and know that the holidays are hard for a lot of people.  

Set boundaries

Remember – it’s okay to say, “No.”  

If there are still presents to buy or parties you have to spend money on and you just can’t afford it, be honest about it. Say, “I’m sorry but I can’t.”  

For me, I’m getting married next year – and we know how expensive weddings are – so I especially can’t afford the holidays this year. So, I’m planning to tell people, “Please don’t buy anything for me, and I won’t buy anything for you!” Your mental health – and your wallet – depend on it. The people in your life who matter most will understand.  

Dr. John Sharp, a board-certified psychiatrist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, told CBS News, “I think saying no is more of a relief instead of stretching and spending more than you have and still not doing enough.” 

Keep healthy habits

Eating a lot of cookies and drinking a lot of eggnog isn’t going to help you feel better. According to studies, a diet high in fat increases depression and anxiety. Instead, eat healthy snacks before going to a party so you’re not as hungry. Also, squeeze in a workout whenever possible and try a fun winter activity, like skiing or hiking – because, even in these cold months, getting outside and experiencing a change of scenery is beneficial for your mental health.  

Talk to a mental health professional

And, most importantly, if you are feeling depressed this holiday season or affected by the change in seasons, talk to a mental health professional. You don’t have to struggle alone.  

To explore your care options, visit bcbsm.com/behavioral-mental-health/support. You can also visit www.griefshare.org to find a “Surviving the Holidays” group seminar near you.  

Opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan or its subsidiaries and affiliates.

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Monica Drake 

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