Feeling sad, anxious or lonely during the holiday season? You’re not alone.
You bought the gifts, prepared the turkey and its trimmings and scheduled virtual gatherings or small parties at home. And yet, in the midst of all the holiday hustle, a sense of melancholy hits you out of nowhere. So why this sudden sadness when everything around you is merry?
Or maybe the pandemic has separated you from your loved ones this year and you’re feeling isolated from the world. First off, just know that you’re not alone. Many of us experience the holiday blues, too. In addition, throw in a pandemic this year and you’ve got yourself a double whammy. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are ways to beat the anxiety and step out of this sh*tty feeling. We reached out to an expert for advice.
Beating the holiday blues: Meet the expert
Maria Micha is a leading clinical mental health counsellor, hypnotherapist, and health coach in Singapore. With over 20 years of experience under her belt, she is well-versed in wellness coaching, family and couple’s therapy, depressive and anxiety disorders, OCD and more. Here, she tells us more…
Hi Maria! Firstly, what are “holiday blues” and why do we experience it?
Holiday blues come from the expectations that we may have. These are often unrealistic, tending to match the movies we watch which portray the ideal scenario of the holiday celebrations that we all have in our heads. Sometimes, we compare our holiday experiences to what we see on television, on social media, or even with our past holiday experiences.
For example, last year I was in New York for the New Year’s countdown. This year, I have to do the countdown in the comfort of my home with seven friends and I keep comparing this coming New Year’s Eve with last year in New York. Of course, I will feel devastated, depressed, and anxious.
What can trigger the holiday blues?
For some people who have to cancel plans to be with family and friends, they may feel sad or depressed as these plans cannot be materialised, especially for people living in Singapore. Likewise, individuals who live in other parts of the world such as Europe or the US where there are still widespread lockdowns, lots of celebrations have to be cancelled.
We achieve mental and emotional balance through anticipating holidays or the year-end break as we often tolerate challenging life situations (i.e. stressful professional projects or relationship issues) in the anticipation of pleasurable future events. But the moment those anticipated future events that allow us to feel emotionally and mentally balanced are removed, we experience an imbalance. This may bring anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, negativity, and in some cases, unfortunately, suicidal thoughts.
How can we identify someone who’s experiencing it?
Changes in our loved ones’ behaviours such as a tendency to be silent, working or shopping obsessively, and even excessive eating or drinking are very common symptoms of the holiday blues. If you find that your loved ones or even yourself are over-decorating the house or making too many plans for Christmas or the New Year’s (ensuring you meet different groups of people every two hours), oftentimes these are also signs of holiday blues.
Additionally, certain individuals may also experience anhedonia – an integral symptom of depression, where they can no longer derive pleasure from previously enjoyable experiences. That causes them to be silent, seek isolation, exhibit low moods or not eat as much (or eat excessively/ binge eat), as they have trouble deriving pleasure from experiences and situations they normally would enjoy in the past.
2020 has been a long, hard year. As much as we can’t wait for 2021, how do we overcome feeling uncertain or fearful of the future?
If we connect with a very clear vision of what and how we want 2021 to be accompanied with elevated emotions of contentment, happiness, and optimism, then this process will produce different hormones in your brain. Your brain will be flooded with hormones that produce feelings of safety, happiness, and contentment. This is a mental exercise which you can engage in to help yourself connect with the alleviated feelings during the pandemic. The elevated emotions replace sentiments of worry that 2020 has brought on.
2020 has not been a difficult year for me. I’ve had a lot of pleasurable moments and looking back, it has been a good year. I achieved an elevated state of mind through engaging in techniques that allowed me to change the chemistry of my brain and connect with the vision that I wanted instead of the vision I was terrified of – even when international news was painting a picture of doom and gloom. I remained hopeful, and I was ensuring feelings of hope and inspiration would inform my daily thoughts and actions. This process changed my experience of the pandemic.
There is no way to overcome the uncertainty of what the future might hold. If we are fixated on a particular outcome, that’s when we’re going to be disappointed. Yet, having an outlook of hope and inspiration would be the strongest shield against the challenging global climate of financial insecurity and health threats.
Pro tips: 6 ways to beat the year-end holiday blues
1. Practice intermittent silence: Change your thoughts by practising intermittent silence, going outside to listen to the beautiful sounds that nature offers. This helps you disconnect from anything stressful. Creating your own internal reality can shift your emotions to higher levels. And that can reduce anxiety and depression, and connect with hope, inspiration and contentment.
2. Create meaningful relationships with others: Get to know and spend time with people in your community (like your neighbours). These new friends may be able to provide you with some support like taking care of your pet when you are out and vice-versa.
3. Reward yourself: It’s an act of self-care that helps increase emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. Go for a massage or gift yourself something you always wanted.
4. Explore experiences: Take up something you want to do but have not had the chance to. It could include trying out a new workout routine, doing pottery, or even cooking a big feast for your loved ones.
5. Recreate holidays within your means: Work within the restrictions and invite friends and family in groups of five to come in at allocated timings, so you can celebrate Christmas and New Year with all of them. It’s a sign of emotional resilience where we find ways to be happy and content with ourselves, without expecting everything to be perfect.
6. Try meditating: Take a few deep breaths and then make a decision to disconnect from everything that stresses you out. Instead of having negative thoughts, think of what you have achieved so far and ways to combine them to create an experience that will bring happiness, laughter, emotional bonding and contentment into your life.
Again, there’s no definite way of beating the holiday blues. Be patient in finding something that works for you and trust the process. Seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Keen to find out more? Maria offers various counselling services and therapy.