The Holiday Blues

Patient Expert

During the holiday season, are you humming "Holly Jolly Christmas," or is "Blue Christmas" the song that keeps running through your head? Maybe it's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," with its wistful longing. Are you surprised that you don't feel as joyous and celebratory as you usually do, or as you feel you should?

You could have the holiday blues. People who aren't acquainted with depression are surprised when they feel melancholy or blue during the holiday season. (Those who are accustomed to depression are used to feeling that way any time of the year). But these emotions seem so wrong and out of place at this time of the year.

The holiday blues are unsettling, and for many people, unexpected. One of the strongest emotions you can feel with the holiday blues is a sense of guilt and disappointment. After all, the holidays are supposed to make us feel joyous and celebratory, not sad and melancholy. Many people feel that something must be wrong with them.

What generally causes these holiday blues? Here are a few of the different causes and triggers:

  • Expectations of the holiday that are too high for reality to measure up to.
  • Expectations for yourself during the holiday that are impossible to measure up to.
  • The commercialization of the season.
  • Sadness over the loss of a friend or family member.
  • Being with family or friends who you have issues with.
  • Dissatisfaction over what you doesn't have materially.
  • Increased stress and more hectic lifestyle.
  • Lack of sleep and less-healthy nutrition.

High Expectations

Many of us have childhood memories of the holidays that are sugarplum visions of perfection, and the adult experience suffers in comparison. It's very possible that our memories are accurate, but we tend to forget that as children we weren't responsible for anything except perhaps helping to trim the tree or picking out presents or "helping" to cook.

We're in charge of a lot more now, so the joys of the holidays are now combined with stress and the need to organize and plan. If we adjust our expectations to an adult experience of Christmas instead of holding onto our childhood experience, we'll probably enjoy the season more.

Keep your own expectations of what you can accomplish realistic. Scale back if you think you've been too ambitious. If you get everything done and find yourself with free time before the holidays, great. You can always do more then. Remember that gift certificates are not a cop-out for people like your mail carrier or your child's scout troop leader and buying some of your holiday meal instead of making it all yourself is not a sin.


Are you starting to grit your teeth every time you see or hear a holiday-related commercial? The rampant consumerism and commercialization of the holidays at times seem to usurp the meaning of the season. Since the only place you could possibly block out these sales pitches is a mountaintop in Tibet, the best way to handle it is to realize that yes, the holidays have been commercialized. Merchants try to sell things to you - that's their business. But that doesn't mean that you have to let it bother you. You can make an effort to connect with the parts of the holiday that aren't commercialized.

  • Organize a Christmas caroling party.
  • Watch holiday specials like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (and ignore the commercials).
  • Read Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" or "The Gift of the Magi".
  • Rediscover the spiritual aspects of the holidays. Find out what activities are planned at your church or religious center. My family used to attend a candlelight service at church every Christmas Eve that was one of highlights of the season for me.


The first holiday season spent without someone who's died during the previous year can be very rough. Any aspect of the season that's normally joyous is inevitably touched with sadness, as every special event serves to remind you that that person is not here to share it.

If this is your first holiday season without someone you've lost, face it head on. If you try to ignore your feelings, the pain will just fester. Think about how you want to mark their passing or honor them during the season. Discuss it with family or friends who were close to them. It could be a healing experience for all involved.

Toxic Family

Are the holidays bringing you in touch with family who you would rather slug than hug? Many people have a relative who they dread coming into contact with. It could be the brother who insists on controlling every aspect of the holiday get-togethers or the grandmother who drinks too much and gets belligerent, or even the uncle who molested them.

Try not to let this person or people ruin your holidays. If possible, limit the amount of time you spend with them. Why spend time with a toxic person just out of obligation? In addition, you might want to talk to a therapist or your pastor/priest/spiritual leader and practice coping skills.

Material Dissatisfaction

If the barrage of commercials has served to remind you of what you don't have, you're not alone. But again, if marketers and advertisers didn't make you feel that way, then they would not have done their job well.

Consider volunteering at a shelter to serve the holiday dinner or buy a present for a child in need through a Toys for Tots program. It's a productive way to get some perspective on how much you do have, and it really does feel great. You could also weep your way through the ending of "It's a Wonderful Life" and remember that family and friends are the true riches.

Staying Healthy

Treat your body better than you usually do, not worse. Exercise (or at least take a walk occasionally) and get plenty of rest. Even if you feel that you can't spare those precious extra hours, getting enough sleep will make you more effective when you're awake.

Also try to maintain a balanced diet. Too many carbohydrates and sugar versus too few fruits, veggies and protein will leave you feeling tired and cranky. Stay away from alcohol. Put simply, alcohol is a depressant. It definitely won't help your mood, except temporarily.

Finally, if you feel blue, don't beat yourself up about it. A certain amount of melancholy is not going to ruin the entire holiday season for you. Just let yourself feel it and move past it.