Coping with the Holiday Blues


There are plenty of holidays scattered throughout the months of November and December, and these final months of the year are so synonymous with celebration that they’re usually referred to as “the holidays.” No matter what you celebrate during the season, the holidays are expected to bring feelings of warmth and joy. Sometimes, though, they might also lead to equally strong feelings of stress or sadness. 

In fact, feeling overwhelmed and out of sorts during the holiday season is so common that it’s known as the “holiday blues.” Even though it might seem counterintuitive, there are a number of reasons why such a supposedly joyful time can end up bringing us down.

For starters, thinking of the holidays as such a spectacular season can actually contribute to the blues. We tend to have incredible expectations for what the holidays bring: picturesque family get-togethers, extravagant decorations, elaborate meals, and a feeling of happiness that’s supposed to spread throughout the season. What the charming movies and cheerful songs don’t romanticize, however, is the work that goes into these festivities. The holidays can be time-consuming and expensive, and when sipping hot cocoa under a strategically-placed string of lights doesn’t put us in the “holiday spirit,” we can end up feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. It isn’t just our material expectations that mislead us, either - it’s our emotional ones, too. When the holidays don’t feel super special, we often feel like it’s a failure on our part, when in fact, we’re chasing after a perfect feeling that really doesn’t exist.

The holidays can also be difficult after you’ve experienced any kind of loss. The “firsts” in particular, or the first holidays you go through without a loved one, can be especially tough. The holidays can often act as grief triggers, or moments that bring back memories of loved ones and strong emotions to follow. 

It’s no coincidence, either, that the holiday season’s winter wonderland backdrop also happens to be a time of dwindling sunlight. The lack of sunlight can also lead to new or worsened feelings of depression.

All this to say, it’s no shame if you’re not too excited for the season’s greetings. This doesn’t mean that you should dump out the eggnog or skip on the latkes next year to avoid a let down. There are a number of things you can do to avoid letting the holiday blues seep into your celebration! 

1. Assess your expectations.

Especially if you’re a parent of little ones, you may feel a heavy weight of responsibility on your shoulders to make the holidays a magical, dreamy experience. Often, the expectations of what the holidays should bring are simply unrealistic and can place a lot of unnecessary stress on parents and fellow celebrators. The holidays don’t have to live up to any fantastical hopes and dreams, and letting go of any unrealistic standards you’re holding yourself to will help you think about and celebrate what really matters to you and your family this holiday season.

2. Embrace new traditions. 

Instead of stressing about achieving the “perfect” holiday, consider adapting some new traditions that you and your family can enjoy together. Whether you’re short on time, coping with new circumstances, or simply letting go of your old holiday expectations, planning new traditions together can bring you and your family closer and allow you to cherish the holiday without feeling pressured to go over-the-top. You could ditch any long-held festivities that cause more migraines than merriment, and come up with your own special ways to celebrate. You might also think about how you can adapt your holiday plans to whatever your situation brings this year. For example, if your family can’t make it in town this year, consider sharing a video of you and your family together instead, or giving them a meaningful call. Sometimes, our holiday alternatives may not live up to our expectations, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy them wholeheartedly just as they are.

3. Take time for yourself.

It might seem tempting to skip out on self-care during the busy holiday season, but what little time you’d be saving probably might be worth it in the long run if you end up overwhelmed and stressed out. Be sure to schedule time to relax and do things you enjoy. Something as simple as taking 10 minutes to meditate, or reading a chapter of a book you enjoy before bed can make a huge difference.

4. Let yourself feel.

Especially if you’re remembering or grieving a loss during the holidays, you might feel pressured to bottle up any negative emotions, try to mask your pain, or force yourself into the holiday spirit. It’s normal to not feel particularly festive when you’re getting through the holidays after something tough. You might need to give yourself time to grieve, and that’s okay.

5. Say “no” when you need to.

Whether it’s hosting a huge family reunion that you don’t have the bandwidth to plan for, splurging on an out-of-budget expense, or participating in a spirited outing that you’re just in the mood for, it’s okay to decline invitations during the holiday season. 

6. Stay on top of a semi-normal routine.

For you and your kids, it’s a good idea to try and keep up with routine as much as possible. Try to get your kids in bed at their usual times, and keep up with their usual schedule and habits. And, do the same for yourself! Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating well and staying active as much as you usually do.

If the holiday blues are getting in the way of your or your child’s ability to handle the day-to-day, however, or if they don’t go away once the festivities are long gone, you should consider reaching out to a mental health professional. 

For more information about mental health, and coping strategies, check out maro parents!

Photo by Emily Bernal on Unsplash


“Speaking of Psychology: The holiday blues, with Elaine Rodino, PhD” from the Speaking of Psychology podcast by the APA.

“Beat Back the Holiday Blues” from the NAMI Blog.

“Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping” by the Mayo Clinic Staff.

“How to Deal with Stress and Depression During the Holidays” by Jennifer Purdie for Healthline.

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