The holiday season is often associated with a time of being and feeling joyous. However, there are many people who do not feel that way due to their financial and time constraints, coping with challenges in interpersonal relationships, and seasonal changes in eating or sleeping habits – all of which may have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many people experience symptoms of depression and anxiety during December, which have become known as the “holiday blues.” A person could also be experiencing a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms of SAD include changes in mood, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating habits and spending less time socializing. People who have SAD usually experience symptoms as winter approaches and the amount of daylight decreases. However, symptoms usually disappear when daylight increases again and when spring returns.
With the holiday season fast approaching and as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, celebrating holiday traditions will be different compared to previous years due to the social isolation, stress and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gatherings during the holiday season typically serve as opportunities to reconnect with family members and friends. Since there are individuals who are especially at risk for contracting COVID-19, many people are choosing not to host or participate in holiday traditions. It can be compounding for people who have SAD or who have experienced the “holiday blues” before. It can also be challenging for those struggling with a substance use disorder or who are in recovery. Overall, it is to be expected that there will be a significant increase of people experiencing the “holiday blues” or symptoms of SAD.
“During the winter holiday season, the days are darker and the pressure people feel is greater. With the COVID-19 pandemic, these symptoms will be heightened due to isolation. This will likely result in an increase in anxiety and depression. To maintain mental and physical health, it is important that if people do decide to hold family gatherings that the proper safety protocol is followed, including social distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand washing. If families cannot meet in person, then they can meet virtually. It is also important at this time to practice self-care routines to ease any ‘holiday blues’ or SAD symptoms,” said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA.
NJAMHAA hopes that others can curb the holiday blues this season by following these tips:
Manage your expectations. Often times, many individuals have unrealistic expectations of their holiday season. Setting reasonable goals that can be achieved during this season can help foster greater happiness.
Stick to normal routines as much as possible to avoid unnecessary stress. This includes regular sleeping, exercising, eating, and drinking habits, which could be easily disrupted during the holidays, especially for individuals who are participating in many parties, gatherings, family celebrations, and other events.
Be aware of personal mental health needs. Feelings of depression and anxiety can manifest during the holidays (or any time); if they are persistent, they should be taken seriously, since transitory problems can indicate larger underlying mental health conditions or lead to long-term conditions. If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings associated with the “holiday blues”, seek local providers of mental health and substance use treatment, who can be found at http://njamhaa.org/njamhaa-member-directory.
Create enough time for self-care. It is necessary to regroup from the bustling season and give yourself time to take care of your own health and needs during the holidays.
Additional tips for managing stress and staying healthy during the holidays include:
Stay in contact with close friends and family.
Set limits: If feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, etc., it’s ok to say “no” to an event, or go late and leave early.
Set boundaries: Stay away from people, places and things that are not emotionally healthy.
Drink responsibly: Do not drink and drive. Know how alcohol affects you because it is different for everyone. Be aware that alcohol is a depressant drug. Read prescription bottle labels to ensure that alcohol will not cause a negative reaction. Remember that it takes about one hour to metabolize a standard drink.
For more guidance about holiday celebrations and small gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the resource page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website here.