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Holiday Blues: Tips for coping with anxiety and depression during the holiday season

The holiday blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The holiday season coupled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic can be difficult to manage. Although the holidays are typically filled with joyful celebrations with family and friends, some people might fall into the holiday blues.

The holiday blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. These feelings can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations, or memories that accompany the season. That includes fatigue, tension, frustration, sadness, loneliness or isolation, and a sense of loss.

The difference between the holiday blues and clinical anxiety or depression is that the feelings are temporary. Health experts say short-term problems must still be taken seriously to prevent the possibility of long-term mental health conditions.

"There are a lot of folks that are dealing with depression for different reasons around the holiday time, whether it is for seasonal reasons, loss of loved ones, or reminders of particular things,” said Jaren Doby, mental health therapist at Novant Health. “But, of course, the pandemic is one of those newer things that has ushered in a sense of lower mood during this particular timeframe. It's important to be able to recognize that you are not alone.”

According to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.”

“The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression,” said a Massachusetts woman who responded to the survey. “The pressure to be joyful and social is tenfold.”

Approximately 755 of overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied and 68% financially strained. 66% have experienced have loneliness, 63% too much pressure and 57% unrealistic expectations. 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while 50% were unable to be with loved ones.

“We are not alone in this particular situation,” said Doby. “We are all experiencing various emotions, whether high or low, as a result of the pandemic and the holiday season. It's important to be able to bond together because it is through togetherness that we can actively and effectively make it through this particular time.”

Here are some tips for avoiding the holiday blues amid the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Stick to normal routines as much as possible.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take time to yourself, but don't isolate yourself.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people under the CDC guidelines.
  • Eat and drink in moderation. Avoid alcohol if you're feeling down.
  • Get enough exercise, even if it's only taking a short walk.
  • Make a to-do list.
  • Keep things simple.
  • Set reasonable expectations, goals, and budgets for the holiday season.
  • Listen to music or find other ways to relax.

Remember, the holiday blues are short-term. Health experts suggests taking things day-by-day. If you need help, you’re encouraged to reach out to a loved one or medical professional. 

If needed, you can always call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for help with mental health.

  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357). 
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.