Signs You Might Have the Holiday Blues

Photo: Getty Images/Fickr RF

Photo: Getty Images/Fickr RF

The other day I wrote about the holiday blues, and how they can start even when the weather’s hot and the leaves are on the trees.  Check out the full post here.

Today I’m going to talk about some of the signs and symptoms of the holiday blues.*

The thing about our moods is that we often don’t notice what’s happening with them.  Very few of us sit around pondering the state of our mental health:

“Hmmmm, am I happy or sad today?”

“What is the word that best describes my current psychological state?”

To carry on like that for too long would be annoying for all involved.  On the other hand, it’s because we don’t often pay much attention to our mood that changes can sneak up on us, and catch us by surprise.  Mood often changes slowly, with subtle signs and symptoms along the way.  If we pay close attention, we’ll notice the changes.  Check these out:

  • increased irritability (everyone is driving me nuts!!!!)
  • decreased motivation (it’s hard to get myself to do anything)
  • decreased pleasure (I don’t look forward to reading Us Weekly like I used to)
  • increased worry (I am stressed about everything!)
  • low mood (I just feel kind of down)

As with most things, the sooner we become aware of a problem, the easier it is to fix it.  Stay tuned for tips on how to manage the holiday blues before they get out of hand.

*Please note, “the holiday blues” is not a diagnosis recognized by the DSM-IV or ICD-10, but rather term used by this author to describe a non-clinically significant cluster of symptoms.



The Holiday Blues in September?

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I don’t know how the weather is in your neck of the woods (Hello, Al Roker!), but around here it’s still hot, hot, hot!  We’re still in tank tops and flip flops, just dreaming of cooler days when we can snuggle up in our hoodies.

Meanwhile, the strangest thing is happening: the “Holiday Blues” are beginning to take hold.  By holiday blues I mean the low mood and high anxiety that often accompanies the end of the year.

There are many reasons for the holiday blues:

  • family pressure/drama/stress
  • loss (of a loved one or a job, for example)
  • overwhelming pressure to live the life portrayed on Pinterest
  • decreasing amounts of sunlight
  • bad memories or trauma in holidays past
  • annoyance at the length in magnitude of the holiday season (September through January, really?)

Whatever the reason, mid-September can mark the start of a downward slide for many of us.  Stay tuned for signs and symptoms that the holiday blues may be sneaking up on you.

Why the Holidays Are Tough

I hate to be bah-humbug about it, but the holidays suck are tough.  Every year around this time my mood fluctuates like crazy, and I can tell the people around me are feeling the same way.  I’ve written about holiday stress many times before, but this year I really tried to stop and think about WHY the holidays are so hard for so many of us.  Beyond offering tips for coping with holiday turmoil, here’s my best guess as to why this season can stink (to put it mildly):


Perhaps in the “good old days” the holiday season meant spending time with loved ones and enjoying the meaning of the season (whatever the meaning might have been).  But these days, it feels like it has become the season of measuring up:

  • Do you have enough money to by your sweetie the diamonds, luxury cars, and furs shown on TV ads?
  • Have you decorated your house with hand-dyed partridge feathers and spiced citrus?
  • Do have a perpetually-smiling brood of 4 or 5 who love to play Parcheesi and giggle while sipping on homemade cider?


Well, guess what? Me neither.  And I am here to tell you that no one measures up to those kinds of standards.  Not even Ms. Martha Stewart herself would come out on top with the above as goals.  So, let’s put an end to this measuring-up, and deal with ourselves, our family, our friends, and our finances for who and what they are: imperfect.  I propose that we simply do our best to get through this month with our mental health intact.  Happy Holidays!

Pre-Holiday Blues

Image by Poco de Mucho

Some of us love and look forward to the holiday season.  Others of us dread it.  But did you know that the holiday blues can start as early as September and October?  I see it all the time in my office: the leaves start to fly and moods go down.  As the holidays are still a ways off, it can take some detective work to realize that the low mood (or increased anxiety, tearfulness, or worry) is due to the change of season and impending holidays.

Folks dread the holidays for lots of reasons: past (and/or current) family drama, financial problems, marital strain, grief, absence of family and friends, spiritual ambiguity.  There are many reasons for the holiday blues – and it seems that more and more people experience them each year.  So, what to do if your autumn is being gobbled up by the dread of the upcoming months?

Live in the moment.  When you notice yourself thinking and worrying about November and December, take a few deep breaths and focus on the present.  I know, this is much easier said than done, but it is still worth a try.  If it means avoiding Costco and the mall with all their holiday decorations, so be it.

Throw a wrench in the works.  Do you hate going to your in-laws every year for Thanksgiving?  Now’s the time to discuss alternative plans for the holiday with your partner.  Who says you can’t go camping over the holiday and celebrate with franks, beans, and s’mores?  Overwhelmed at the thought of spending too much money for Christmas presents?  Now’s the time to talk to your family about foregoing presents for the year, exchanging only small items, or doing one secret Santa gift instead of buying for everyone.

Find a new meaning.  Some folks find great meaning in the pilgrims’ stories in New England and the birth of Jesus.  Others not so much.  If the traditional stories don’t resonate with you, try figuring out something that does – outrageous overeating, mass consumption, the need for Martha Stewart-like perfection, and adding to your credit card debt don’t count.  Is this a good time of year to volunteer at your kids’ school?  A local shelter?  Donate blood?  Is it a time to focus on family and friends?  Time to learn a new skill or try something new?  Whatever it is, make it mean something.

Need some other ideas for warding off the holiday blues?  Check out my post: Sex, Costumes, and Rock Band: The Ingredients for a Stress-Free Holiday over at APA’s Your Mind. Your Body.