December 16, 2016

Strategies for Managing the Holiday Blues

’Tis the season to be jolly, or so they say.

For many, jolliness alone does not aptly describe the feelings accompanying the holiday season, says Jonathan Jackson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Psychological Services

“For most of us, most of the time, emotions are rarely clear and simple; mixed emotions prevail. And like no other time of year, the holiday season will bring this point home,” he says. “It’s called ambivalence: when, for example, a rush of positive anticipation arrives side-by-side with an undercurrent of anxiety bordering on dread. Or, weeks before the New Year, the excitement of planning prevails, building to panic and finally yielding to relief when the big day is past.”

The side-by-side positive and negative emotions, combined with interrupted routines, can become even more difficult when the thread of disappointment is woven in.

“Memories of past disappointments are added to the emotional stew, and a focus on dissatisfactions with progress we’ve made in the past year can render the mixture acrid, tipping our emotional balance altogether,” says Jackson. “You can hear an echo of these difficulties when people announce, ‘We’re not going crazy this year with gifts,’ or ‘We’re putting up a small tree.’  It’s an effort, often very effective, to manage the emotional roller coaster of the holidays by downplaying expectations in implicit anticipation of the disruptions that accompany holidays and the letdown that is almost sure to follow for some in January.”

Still, the detachment and moderation that might help some manage expectations and find balance throughout the holidays may not be possible or even appealing for others. During this time of year, moderation is often abandoned in favor of the desire to “eat, drink and be merry.” For others, the expected recurrence of depressive feelings may seem inevitable.

The best way to help yourself and those around you through these emotions is to know that they’re coming and prepare for them, suggests Jackson. “It might be wise to anticipate, well ahead of time, what your holiday season might be,” he says. “That is, just as you prepare to celebrate, you may also prepare a measure of self-care. If you or your close ones anticipate a rough passage to the New Year, consider techniques to soften your ride or some common sense safety measures.” 

Routines are one strategy Jackson suggests that can help smooth out a tumultuous holiday season. That means keeping up with sleep habits, exercise routines, and eating habits as much as is possible when not attending holiday parties or family gatherings. 

Another strategy? Don’t go it alone. Jackson suggests teaming up with someone so you can keep an eye on and support each other as the days leading up to the New Year tick by.

So as our approach toward 2017 picks up speed, remember that the holidays can be challenging for everyone, and while these approaches can help some, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if you need to.

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