For many people, December is a magical time of year with all of the festivities that come with it. As Andy Williams croons “it’s the most wonderful time of the year…” If you are going through a tough time or find your stress levels higher during this season you may feel far from wonderful. Difficulties don’t take a holiday break.
As a mom, I have gone through hardship during Christmas like job loss and baby loss. I also have elevated levels of stress with a full to-do list. Both of these situations can take the joy out of the world. Can you relate? It makes me wonder, are there things we can do to cope during the holidays or other celebrations, like weddings, when we don’t feel all that festive?
As a therapist, when faced with a problem I think yes there is. How? By coming up with a treatment plan to help overcome the issue at hand. In this case, dealing with holiday blues and stress. The treatment plan, or plan of action, can help shape our focus on solving this problem and gives us the appropriate tools that will help us manage and cope.
As we get into the thick of things this season does this approach sound good to you if you’re stressed or not looking forward to this time of year? This does not have to be the most wonderful time of the year. Personally, I think summer is. But with messages of merriment abounding there are things we can do to dealing with holiday blues and stress. Let’s come up with a plan and tools for dealing with holiday blues and stress. As a take away you can access the plan and tools in this free printable, but keep reading for more details on each point.
Before we delve into a treatment plan to deal with the holidays it’s important to explore what holiday blues looks like. Not that you need a reminder if you’re already living it. Your experiences are unique to you, but you might be surprised at looking at what others are going and realize that you’re not alone. Despite being bombarded with messages of being merry and bright, many people do not appear as they seem.
What Holiday Blues And Stress Looks Like
This time of year can be particularly hard for us moms because more than likely we are the ones who are getting, arranging, preparing, doing and going.
When the difficult times or stress get heaped on you like a pile of coals it’s a little bit different.
It’s the “hap-hapiest season of all when your friends come to call….” Not when you’re homesick. “There will be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing…” Not when you are grieving. “There’ll be marshmallows for roasting and parties for hosting…” Not if you lost your job and can’t afford to have a party. Not if you’re sick or battling depression.
The songs coming through the radio all tell us we should be jingle this and merry that. Slogans on commercials have the same message. It’s not just the commercialness of the season. Our calendars fill up with social engagements and special events. Traditions, like decorating, shopping and making cookies get added to our to-do list.
When looking at your own life at this time of year how many of you want to say “bah, humbug” rather than dashing through the snow laughing all the way?
The holidays in and of themselves can be stressful. Imagine what it is like to deal with that along with going through a tough time. Perhaps you are going through this right now. It’s the perfect recipe for the holiday blues.
The Holiday Blues
Elvis may have been on to something when he sang “Blue Christmas.” Perhaps that song is the most reflective of people’s true feelings, “I’ll be blue without you…”
“I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year,” said Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in an interview with WebMD. “Many feel miserable, and that’s not only for people with clinical depression.”
As the term “holiday blues” implies feelings of sadness, darkness, or depression is often experienced. When life is hard for those going through things such as loss of a loved one, tight finances, illness, loneliness, or relationships issues these feelings are exacerbated due to the stress and pressure of the holidays.
Loss of a loved one may mean the end of certain traditions or certain traditions can be triggers for missing a person. Battling depression may mean not enjoying all of the parties. Estranged relationships might bring dread to family gatherings.
You don’t have to be going through a trial to experience holiday blues though. The added stress of a full calendar, long lines at the mall and having the shortest days of the year can lead to feeling down.
As moms, though we might not be into the holiday spirit, it can be a tough time because we have to keep things going for our kids and families. We may want to just hibernate in bed and sleep the season away, instead we have to fake a smile, have to get treats made or get dragged to a school concert.
You Are Not Alone
“Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time,” says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.
Nearly 62 % reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time, according to a poll by conducted by Healthline. 49% of moms put added pressure on themselves over the holidays according to a survey done by US Highbury Blueberry Council.
The truth is if you ask anybody, you’d probably hear others relate to the above stats. While we all deck the halls with boughs of holly, there are probably more of us than we realize that truly feel like the little tree from Charlie Brown.
From personal experience, I have felt the holiday blues many times. When I was suddenly single and wished I was married the holidays were hard. When my husband was out of a job the holidays were hard. When my baby has not present but should have been, the holidays were hard.
It can be isolating to go through the holiday blues though because everywhere we look it seems like it’s a white Christmas where treetops glisten and children listen. The truth is, not every Christmas is white, even here in the midwest. There are a lot of holidays where people feel like the Grinch or Charlie Brown. Yet even in those shows, things can be gleaned on how moms can manage the holidays when going through a tough time.
Now that you have a better idea that holiday blues and festive stress is a common thing let’s come up with a plan and tools to help you manage the holidays
A Plan And Tools
You, mama, can get through this season. It doesn’t have to be full of glad tidings 100% of the time. If you feel celebratory part of the time but not others that is okay. If your lights are tangled up and burnt out that is okay. With holiday blues and stress the focus should be on managing and coping so you can get through things. This is just a season, and perhaps next year you’ll be able to approach the holidays differently.
If you are going through difficulties it can be hard keeping up with all of the traditions and happiness that is expected at this time of year. You may not be depressed, but perhaps things that used to be fun are not enjoyable. Perhaps you feel like you need to keep doing the same thing despite the pain you’re going through. Let’s get out of the rut of participating in things that only bring on difficult triggers and come up with a plan that helps you deal with the holidays. Perhaps through this plan, you will be able to find a manageable light this season.
Assess what you are up for:
- What activities sound doable for you? What will be too hard? Stick to things that you can do and say no to the things you don’t want to.
Take a step back
- Step away from situations or things that cause pain, grief, elevates stress or is unhealthy for you. For example, if going to an event that you used to go to with someone you lost is too hard, skip it this year.
Create Realistic Expectations
- Life is different for the time being, it doesn’t mean you have to keep up with the same expectations and traditions this season.
- Create expectations based off of what you’re capable of doing. If you used to make 20 dozen cookies but only want to make 5 this year let that new number be your expectation.
Let It Go
- Let go of unrealistic expectations
- Let go of things that are too hard
- Let go of the guilt and don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as planned.
The overarching theme for this plan to deal with the holidays is to take time to look at what you can do and what you don’t want to do, be realistic and only focus on doing things within these parameters.
Once you figured this out what are the tools you can use to implement this plan?
Here are some tangible action steps you can use to help you carry out your plan for dealing with holiday blues and stress.
Talk With Others
- Let your loved ones know how you are feeling about things at this time of year. Inform them of what you’d like to do and skip out on.
- If you need to cancel things let them know.
- If things need to be simplified let them know.
- If you find yourself doing something that makes another person happy but is hard for you, it’s okay to stop. You don’t have to live up to other people’s expectations during this difficult time.
Ask For Help
- If you need help accomplishing tasks, ask for help. If someone else needs to take over hosting ask.
- Let people know if are feeling lonely or need to talk.
- If you’re not sure how to ask for help seek out one person that can be your confidant that can ask others to help on your behalf.
- Only schedule or attend to things that you are up for doing.
- Keep decorating minimal or skip it if you’re not into it.
- If need to buy gifts consider online shopping to avoid crowded stores.
- Go store bought for goodies or crafts if needed.
- Make lists to help you keep track of things.
- Delegate tasks to other people.
Find Light In The Small Things
- Instead of focusing on large parties, bright lights, and hustle and bustle for a pick-me-up pay attention to the smaller things.
- Watch children’s faces light up or listen to them laugh to be reminded of what happiness looks like.
- Watch the snow fall or the sunset to be reminded of the beauty in the world.
- Pay attention to people ringing bells for the Salvation Army and be reminded that there are still caring people in the world.
- Spend time with people you are a light to you.
Try Something New
- Perhaps old traditions don’t mean the same thing to you this year. It’s okay to branch out and do something different.
- If you’re missing a loved one, whether due to a move or loss, write them a letter.
- Say no to overscheduling.
- Say no to decorating your house like the Griswolds.
- Say no to buying gifts you can’t afford or eating too much food.
- Say no to things that are not enjoyable.
- Say yes to staying home.
- Say yes to skipping something so you can work out, read, or watch a movie.
- Say yes to online shopping to avoid the mall.
- Say yes to eating cookie batter
- Say yes to helping others
- Say yes to the things that are enjoyable
Don’t forget to print off your plan and tools here!
If You Are Feeling Depressed Seek Professional Help
There is a difference between feeling down because of a situation and clinical depression. If you are having persistent feelings of sadness or loss of interest and are experiencing behavioral and physical symptoms like changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem, there is no shame in getting professional help. You can find a counselor in your area here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
For some, it may be the most wonderful time of the year. For many, we may feel more like Charlie Brown. In the end, though he was able to break from his depression and find light in the Christmas season. Linus’ account of the birth of Jesus helped him find the true meaning of Christmas and Charlie Brown felt joy. As Judy Garland once sang:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Perhaps next year the troubles and stress will be out of sight, but for the time being, may this plan and these tools help your heart be light.