This article is part of the #STCPreventionMatters campaign from the University of Maryland Medical Center. For more information about the campaign and the Center for Injury Prevention and Policy, visit: www.umm.edu/PreventionMatters
Many people experience stress during the busy holiday season. Rushing around, worrying about others, missing people, navigating tough relationships— all can be difficult to manage, especially when we are surrounded by messages that we are “supposed” to feel happy.
More than 60 percent of people report feeling down during the holidays, often referred to as the “holiday blues.” Most people report feeling stressed, stretched, and overwhelmed by commitments during the holidays, and many people are caught between feeling bad and wishing they could feel better. Fortunately, there are many things that people can do as the holidays approach to look ahead, identify situations that will cause stress, and make a plan to cope with them.
Here are several tips for managing the holiday blues:
Plan ahead. The business of the holidays can leave us rushing from place to place with little time to think about what we’re doing or how we want a situation to go. Take a few minutes to plan, both at the start of the season, and again at the start or end of each day. This planning can involve thinking about the things that are on your schedule, identifying what must be done and what can be put off, and organizing your time. Such planning will allow you to see if your schedule is realistic or needs to be changed to reduce stress.
Identify activities that make you happy. Many people end their holidays wishing they had spent more time doing things that they enjoy. Think about the activities that make you happy and plan to do them. If you like baking, make sure you have time for that. If you like to have quiet time to enjoy holiday music or watch a special movie with a friend, move that to the top of your to-do list. If you’re not much interested in the holidays, get involved in other activities that you enjoy. Schedule these pleasant activities so that you have time set aside to do them. The goal is to make sure you do more of what brings you pleasure and makes you feel happy.
Accept that some activities and situations are difficult. Many people find that the holidays are filled with commitments and obligations that leave them feeling stressed or sad. Review the activities that are difficult for you and plan ways to limit how much time you spend on them. This may mean skipping a holiday gathering that would cause you stress or saying “no” to a request that you don’t have time to fulfill. If this is difficult for you, plan what you want to say and how you want to say it – you can even practice until you feel comfortable. Setting these boundaries can be difficult but doing less or saying no can free up time for those activities that bring you joy.
Ask for help. If you start to feel down, talk to someone about it— a friend, family member, co-worker, or professional. People often feel alone with negative emotions, but most people have felt bad during one holiday or another and can relate to what you’re going through. If you would rather not have an emotion-filled conversation, simply asking someone to grab coffee, run an errand for you, or go for a walk can help you feel better.
Take care of yourself. Whatever helps you cope with stress all year long will be even more important to help you cope during the holidays. Exercise, sleep, eating healthy— all are very important to ward off the holiday blues. Schedule time to do things that make you feel calm, such as listening to music, taking a bath, reading a good book, practicing relaxation, or taking a walk.
For more intense negative thoughts such as extended feelings of depression, isolation or loneliness, please reach out— help and understanding are only a phone call away.
Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration
National Hopeline Network:
1-800- SUICIDE (784-2433)
National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Youth Crisis Hotline:
Maryland’s Crisis Connect:
Call 2-1-1, Press 1
Melanie Bennett, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is a psychologist who conducts research on ways to improve health and maximize mental health recovery