A young woman in a plaid shirt is sad about the holidays, looking at her iPad

8 Ways To Beat the Holiday Blues This Winter

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Are you feeling low this holiday season? You aren’t alone. Here’s your guide to beating the holiday blues.

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Despite what the holiday songs and movies may try to tell us, everything is not always holly and jolly this time of year. 

Between the lack of daylight hours, pressure from loved ones, family drama, financial stressors, and unrealistic expectations all around, it’s no wonder so many people experience the holiday blues. In fact, if you’re not feeling so great these days, you may actually be in the majority. It’s estimated that 55% of Americans feel loneliness or sadness during the holidays. Plus, the season can be particularly difficult for those with pre-existing mental health conditions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 64% of people with mental health conditions experience worsened symptoms during the holidays. 

So, if the holiday blues are hitting you hard, you’re far from alone–and there are steps you can take to feel at least a little bit brighter.

Here are eight ways to beat the holiday blues this holiday season.

1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings

Add up all the expectations put on us by the media, our families, and whoever else –– there’s so much pressure around the holiday season to have a good time and be happy. But putting on a happy face when you aren’t feeling it can be exhausting, so try to let some of that pressure go.

Allow yourself to feel emotions other than happiness –– and don’t beat yourself up for doing so. It’s okay to feel not okay, even around the holidays. You don’t have to feel guilty for not feeling happy even though it may appear that most people around you are. 

Practice self-compassion by noticing your true feelings and acknowledging how difficult it is to feel this way, and pat yourself on the back for doing your best. Journaling can be a great tool here to get all your feelings onto paper and make more sense of your emotions. Whether you’re feeling stress, depression, anxiety, or guilt, your feelings are valid.

A woman lays on her couch in pajamas, sad at Christmas time

2. Lean on your loved ones

There’s often a lot of emphasis on family time surrounding the holidays, but the reality is that many people don’t have the best relationships with their families. In fact, holiday dinners and parties can be a major source of stress, whether you're nervous about your family’s opposing political views or your grandparents asking you why you’re still single. 

Now is a time to lean on your loved ones who you feel like you can truly confide in and be yourself around –– and that doesn’t necessarily have to be your relatives. Your chosen family, your closest friends, are there for you. Use this social support to vent to them about your holiday blues and any mental health struggles, such as depression, that you might be facing.

When you open up, it makes other people feel comfortable to do so, too. You may find yourself surprised to see how many other people are experiencing the holiday blues, as well. Let your friends know that you’re there for them, too.

3. Practice self-care

Self-care is crucial for mental health year-round, but it can be especially helpful when you’re coping with holiday stress. Self-care looks different for everyone. Play around with some different self-care methods and see what works best for relieving your stress. Some self-care ideas to improve your mental health this holiday season are:

  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Meditating
  • Working on positive self-talk
  • Making art
  • Playing an instrument
  • Nurturing your strengths
  • Doing things that are fun and bring you joy
  • Asking for help when you need it  

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4. Don’t neglect your physical health

Our physical health plays a big role in our mental health, and taking care of yourself can help make a difference. Some tips for this include:

  • Stay active: Exercise is scientifically proven to boost your mood, helping to reduce anxiety and depression while also improving self-esteem. Yes, it can be hard to muster the motivation to work out, but you’ll feel better once you do, especially once you get yourself into a routine. Try to get in at least 20 minutes a day for the best results. If you can’t face the cold and leave your house, there are plenty of online home workouts you can do. For bonus points, enlist a friend as an accountability buddy so you can keep each other motivated.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Nourish your body with a healthy, balanced diet, and your brain will thank you. Eating healthy will give your body all the vitamins it needs to work its best and the energy to help you push through this holiday season.
  • Get enough high-quality sleep: Being sleep-deprived can worsen mental health. Teens ages 13 through 18 should get eight to 10 hours of sleep, and adults over 18 should get at least seven hours. If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to try to improve your sleep hygiene by keeping a consistent bedtime, limiting phone and computer use close to bedtime, and avoiding caffeine later in the day. 
  • Get some vitamin D: Since you likely aren’t spending as much time outside and there are less hours of daylight in the depths of winter, you might have lower levels of vitamin D. Make it a point to get some sunshine, even if it’s just a brisk walk outside. Talk to your doctor about whether taking vitamin D supplements could be right for you. 
  • Refrain from using substances: It can be very tempting, especially during the holiday season, to turn to alcohol or other drugs to “take the edge off” or cope with the difficulties you’re facing. However, this can worsen any existing mental health conditions, and not to mention, run the risk of substance abuse

5. Limit social media usage

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and social media certainly lends itself to a lot of comparisons. You may also feel pressured to be doing more than you’re doing if you see posts of people out with friends or families at parties. Not to mention, this could further contribute to any feelings of loneliness you’re experiencing.

It can be easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel, and much of what people post isn’t exactly their reality. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Even if someone is posting happy-looking family photos, they could be feeling the holiday blues, too. 

If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and feeling lonely or less than when you’re scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, it could be a sign that you need to cut back on your social media use. You can choose to limit the amount of time you spend each day, or take designated days of the week where you avoid it altogether. 

6. Set healthy boundaries

It isn’t always easy, but setting clear boundaries and learning to say “no” are crucial skills that can help your mental health this holiday season. 

You may feel a lot of pressure from family or friends to do things that you don't want to do, or things that make you feel uncomfortable. Come to compromises and know your limits. Don’t feel like you need to please everyone –– you have to do what’s best for you. This could look like telling your loved one you can only attend the gathering for X amount of time, or that you can make it to one event but not the other. 

Depending on the situation, you may want to set boundaries surrounding conversations ahead of time. For example, you may ask your family to avoid commenting on your body or eating habits, or let them know that it hurts your feelings when they tease you, even if they’re just joking around. 

7. Create a cozy, comfortable space

You may find yourself spending more time at home during the winter, so adding little touches to your home can help. Some people may like to hang up some holiday decorations to help get into the holiday spirit, but if that’s not your style, you can stick to big cozy blankets, nice-smelling candles, and string lights. Cultivate a space that feels safe, cozy, and comfortable where you can relax and take care of yourself.

8. Know when it’s more than just the holiday blues

If your low mood has been an issue since before the holidays, and if it continues on past the holidays, it’s possible that you could be dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a specific type of depression. This typically comes on in the fall and can last until spring. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Experiencing depression most days
  • Having a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes to appetite (usually overeating) and weight (usually weight gain)
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Lacking energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing socially 
  • Thinking about suicide

In this case, it’s important to reach out for help. Treatment is available for SAD, including therapy, medication, and light therapy. 

Even if you don’t think you have SAD but the holiday blues are hitting you hard, working with a therapist is a great way to unpack what you’re feeling and learn to cope with tough emotions.  

How Charlie Health can help

Think that your holiday blues might be something more serious, like seasonal affective disorder or depression? If you’re a teen or young adult struggling with your mental health, Charlie Health may be able to help. 

We know that every individual has their own unique mental health journey. Our personalized intensive outpatient program provides mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a variety of struggles.

At Charlie Health, every client is matched with a therapist who fits their specific needs, and will also be matched with a group of peers who are from similar backgrounds with similar struggles. 

Coping with a low mood and other mental health struggles can be difficult, but it is absolutely possible to push forward, feel better, and experience a higher quality of life and improved mental health. Help is here now. Get started.

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