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Holiday blues: The flip side of festive cheer

By Michael Ceo



While the holiday season is "the most wonderful time of the year," as the song goes, for many of us it can be the most hazardous emotionally. By examining the underlying factors that contribute to the holiday blues, we are more likely to avoid or minimize their impact.


Also, as we recognize how those around us may be affected by the emotional undertow of holiday frenzy, there is a marvelous opportunity to strengthen friendships and families. Offering our understanding and support is the most powerful and meaningful of holiday gifts. These are truly the gifts that keep on giving. And they're on sale every day.


Much of the emotional dissonance of holidays centers on confused expectations. There is so much press to "be happy," to have the perfect holiday, that we put too much responsibility on ourselves. It is easy to confuse frenzy with happy rather than look at where the joy really is in our lives. The enormous commercial influence of the holidays would have us believe that things make us happy, leading to overspending and a post-New Year's credit hangover.


It can be a fruitful and eye-opening exercise to clarify expectations with loved ones as to where they find joy in their lives. Let this be the guiding star of Christmas. If that new digital camera would lead to artistic creativity or shared enjoyment, it may be more relevant than the frenetic video game.


A holiday is a significant anchor for a boatload of feelings and memories that are elicited by all the seasonal rituals and songs. Often these memories are confused or can be unsettling. Those of us who have experienced troubled relationships growing up or had losses during holiday seasons past are especially vulnerable. Perhaps the holiday season hearkens back to times that were better or more seemingly fulfilling. For those of us who struggle with holiday blues, it is essential to talk about these crosscurrents.


One of my favorite holiday movies is called, "Home for the Holidays." In the final scene, actress Holly Hunter turns to her "sister" and says, "Hey, we don't have to like each other, we're family." This scene speaks volumes about the contradictions of family life and certainly puts the fun in "dysfunctional."


The holiday challenge is to really clarify our expectations around family life so as not to set ourselves up for disappointment. If family getting together means a usual dance of conflict, it is unlikely to change because it's a holiday. Maybe there is an opportunity for you to change the dance steps so as to make the outcome different this time.


Before private practice, I worked in community mental health clinics where the time period after the holidays was difficult for many. Consider extending your calendar of social activities into the new year to avoid the letdown that comes when the holiday cheer is over and the gifts start to lose their shine. This is the period when the warm winter glow of the carols turns just plain cold and dreary.


Most importantly, it is the season for reflection and spiritual rejuvenation. The holiday season, whether we celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or Ramadan, is a time to both look back on our lives and forward into the future with a rekindled spirit and purpose for living. The holidays represent a "reality check" on our values, which can lead to a deeper meaning and satisfaction in our lives.



Tips for avoiding holiday blues


  • Talk over and clarify with loved ones what would make their season bright.


  • Try and keep your sleep patterns as normal as possible.


  • Set a budget and stick to it, avoiding a credit hangover.


  • Participate in worship services and in opportunities for community service.


  • Avoid alcohol abuse, remembering that alcohol is a nervous-system depressant.


  • Have talks with friends and family about where to find joy in your lives.