For some of us the holidays are a time of celebration, cheer, and enjoyment… for others the holidays area time of regret, despair, and sadness… holiday blues. Holiday blues can affect anyone. If you feel you want to punch the next person who tells you to “get in the holiday spirit” keep reading.
Holiday expectations. Multicolored lights twinkle across houses and reindeer pose in front yards. Parents and eager children form long lines to sit on a Santa's lap while sucking on candy canes. Decorations and sale signs adorn every store window. Jingle bells and Christmas carols fill the air. Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire. Holiday movies are in every theater, "Miracle on 34th Street" replays in many homes. Families and friends gather around a cozy hearth smiling and laughing. Families gather for homemade gourmet banquets. Holiday “Ugly Sweater” office parties and bonuses. Laughing children in line for a photo opportunity with Santa. Couples romantically walk hand in hand. Roasted chestnuts, spiked eggnog, steaming hot chocolate with whipped cream. Yes, the holidays are blissful for many, but not for all.
The holiday blues are feelings of sadness, stress, irritability that tend to occur around holiday season. The season can be a source of depression, irritability, anxiety, despair, and regrets. Changes in family dynamics, problems at work, losses, grief, health concerns, etc. can cause overwhelming feelings of sadness. Sadness is a truly personal feeling. What makes one person feel sad may not affect another person.
Reasons for the Holiday Blues Include:
· Unrealistic expectations
· Reaching for perfection…a picture-perfect holiday celebration
· Wanting to replicate past holiday celebrations
· Busy schedule studying, shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning can lead to fatigue
· A death, loss, separation or other significant change in lifestyle
· Family togetherness-can be a good thing, or it can be a stressful thing
· Past holidays may have been difficult; our lives may not be as fulfilled as we would like
· Over commercialization
· Financial constraints, or debt from increased shopping debt
· End of the year work expectations
· Finals/school projects
· Weather – specifically decreased sunlight
· Health changes and illnesses
· For some, the holiday season presents as a time for self-evaluation which may reflect on past failures, an uncertain future, feelings of loneliness, and tension
· For others, like police officers and other first responders, being unable to spend the holidays with the family can easily generate the blues.
Law Enforcement Officers and The Holiday Blues
Law enforcement officers are at an obvious increased risk for the holiday blues. If you work second or third watches, how much sunlight do you get? Lack of sunlight can actually lead to a diagnostic mental health disorder called seasonal affective disorder. While other people are viewing the positive aspects of the season, you are called to death investigations, domestic violence and child abuse calls. Every other car is probably a DUI. Party/noise calls, drunk-in-public contacts, and petty theft calls all increase. You remember the officer who died in the line of duty this year. You worry about the isolated partner who drinks too much. You work as much overtime as you can to buy the best gifts, only to learn your significant other resents that you are not present for the season's activities. Chances are good you will be working one, if not all, of the holidays, and you realize you have never seen your kids open their gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe you are going to be alone for the holidays for the first time since your wife/husband and you divorced. Now, add the regular stress that an officer faces daily, compound that with a possible IA investigation, loss of promotion, department infighting…add that to the list above, it truly can lead to overwhelming feelings of sadness. If you are not singing the blues, someone close to you is.
So, if you are feeling like Scrooge, it helps to know that you are not alone. There are some proactive things that you can do to decrease depressive and anxious symptoms, and minimize holiday stress. Here is a practical guide to help you survive the blahs and the humbugs; and possibly even enjoy this holiday season.
Thirty-Nine Effective Tips for Coping with Holiday Blues
1. Make realistic expectations for the holiday season.
2. Set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
3. Make a to-do list, keep it simple. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
4. Prioritize the important activities. Procrastination usually backfires.
5. Do not put all your energy into just one day
6. Live and enjoy the present.
7. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend.
8. Make time for yourself!
9. Look to the future with optimism.
10. Don't set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the good old days of the past.
11. Get competition out of your activities.
12. Set differences aside.
13. If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others.
14. Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations; going window shopping without buying and watching the winter weather, whether it's a snowflake, a raindrop and any rainbows that may follow.
15. Limit your drinking; excessive drinking only increases your feelings of depression.
16. Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way. Create a new practical tradition.
17. Spend time with supportive and caring people.
18. Reach out and make new friends.
19. Make time to contact a long-lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
20. Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks. Learn to delegate.
21. Set reasonable limits regarding the purchase of gifts.
22. Set reasonable expectations about who you are going to visit and when.
23. Don't take responsibility for everyone else's holiday happiness.
24. Seek the sun…exposure to sunlight at least 20 minutes a day during winter weather can improve mood.
25. If loved ones are absent during the holidays, if relationships are broken, or there have been other types of tragedies, do not pretend that they do not exist.
26. Resolutions really do work. They are ways of developing goals
27. Exercise regularly.
28. Eat a healthy diet; watch your carbohydrate, fat, and caloric intake
29. Do not read newspapers and turn off your television. Negative stories evoke negative emotions
30. Practice relaxation and deep breathing techniques.
31. Avoid sleep deprivation.
32. Ask for help if you need it, share your feelings with others.
33. Let go of the past- Don’t dwell on the past and what it used to be. It can help in creating feelings of disappointment if your holidays aren’t like they used to be.
34. Do something for the community. Ring bells for the Salvation Army, donate food to the food bank, etc.
35. Carry stuffed animals in your car and give them to the children you encounter on the streets.
36. Celebrate the holidays of a different day, a day you are not working. If you celebrate Christmas on 12/27 you can clean up on after holiday sales, restaurants will be open, and you won’t have to wait in those long return lines at customer service.
37. Listen to your favorite music and watch your favorite movies.
38. Bring in some holiday treats to the station to share with everyone.
39. Finally, reflect on the spirit of the holidays. Our three major holidays involve messages that are important to remember. Thanksgiving celebrates what we are grateful for. Christmas is the season of love and the importance of giving and sharing with others. New Year's is a time of new beginnings.
To all of you reading this……I hope your holidays are at least reasonably tolerable. Even Scrooge was able to find an ounce of happiness and joy……give it a try.