Member Assistance

How to Handle Holiday Expectations and Avoid the ‘Holiday Blues’

Journal: Issue 4 - 2016


The Ghost of Christmas Past

In his classic work, “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past, a friendly spirit who helps Scrooge travel back through time to view scenes of long-forgotten holiday memories. Scrooge’s favorite memories play in front of his eyes, capturing every happy facial expression, loving word and deed as though it were happening in real time instead of decades ago.

While cheered by these recollections, Scrooge also seems painfully aware of his present, dreary, and lonely life. In modern terms, Scrooge’s despondent demeanor and pessimistic outlook would have resulted in his being nudged to make a bee-line to his nearest mental health clinic. No doubt, at minimum, Scrooge would have been diagnosed as suffering from a severe case of the ‘holiday blues,’ if not full blown diagnoses of severe clinical depression, anxiety, emotional and physical exhaustion.

The pressure to make the holidays perfect, coupled with family drama, can create a holiday crisis of sorts, in which the season feels more stressful and depressing than joyful. Adding to that, due to the seasonal nature of our members’ work, there are serious financial pressure that comes to play.

Some may have trouble dealing with unresolved family feuds, while others feel pressured to conform to family traditions and values which we may no longer espouse. Being bombarded by images of happy families celebrating together may heighten loneliness. Even the weather can contribute to holiday depression as the cold and darkness associated with the winter months can lead to a type of depression known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”


When Holiday Stress Turns into Clinical Depression

Holiday stress or the “holiday blues” can overwhelm a person to the point that he or she develops a clinical depression. Help is available to treat depression, but many fail to recognize the warning signs:

  • Intense feelings of irritability, guilt, sadness and gloom
  • Dramatic changes in appetite, with unusual weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty sleeping, including restlessness, insomnia and a tendency to sleep too much or too little
  • Fatigue – feeling constantly tired emotionally and physically
  • Lack of interest in personal and work activities
  • Poor concentration – unable to focus and pay attention
  • Low self-esteem – feeling unworthy or unloved
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Preoccupied with thoughts about death


Handling the Holiday Blues

The good news is that you can design a holiday that fits your situation and needs. Here are suggestions for handling holiday depression and stress:

  • Set limits for yourself. “Just say no” to uncomfortable holiday commitments that will take up your time and energy without bringing you pleasurable rewards. Weigh the pros and cons and make choices based on what fits your holiday needs.
  • Make plans for how to invest your money and time, and stick with these decisions. Try to keep a holiday budget to avoid financial strain.
  • Set realistic expectations for others. Remember that the holidays are not a good time to resolve family fights, discuss bad memories or talk about emotionally-charged issues.
  • Spend time with children to remember the enthusiasm and joy of the holiday spirit.
  • Surround yourself with friends who are supportive.
  • Recognize that stress is a “normal” reaction to changes that occur during the holidays.
  • Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, eating a balanced diet and exercising. Try to avoid the temptations to overeat, abuse alcohol or take on responsibilities that leave you emotionally or physically exhausted.
  • Combat loneliness by spending time with friends or doing volunteer work.
  • Cope with feelings of loss through self-soothing activities such as prayer, meditation and positive thinking.
  • Enjoy free holiday activities such as viewing holiday decorations, listening to music or going window-shopping.

If you or a family member suffers from holiday depression and stress, help is available. Call BAC’s Member Assistance Program (MAP) for free and confidential help and guidance from a licensed clinical social worker. Call toll-free: 1-888-880-8222, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, except on Thursday when MAP closes at 3:30 p.m. EST. Just ask for MAP!

620 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
Phone: 202.783.3788
Toll free: 1.888.880.8222