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December 13, 2011 > Counseling Corner: Beating the Holiday Blues

Counseling Corner: Beating the Holiday Blues

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

It's the time of year when people are filled with holiday cheer - or at least, that's what the commercials tell us we are supposed to feel when we are bombarded with vibrant images of people with big smiles surrounded by happy families and friends. The radio stations and malls blast out cheery jingles about the "most wonderful time of the year." Yet, the holidays can be tough and even depressing for many people. In fact, it is not at all abnormal to feel down, sad, and anxious during this time of the year. Here are just some of the reasons why depression may strike during the holiday season:

Holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year emphasize family togetherness but can be an acutely painful and depressing reminder if there's separation, estrangement, death or dying. Memories of loved ones tend to intensify during this time and we can inexplicably feel sad amidst the joy.

Expectations about the holiday season can often be unrealistic - whether it's getting the perfect gift or having the perfect family gathering. These unrealistic expectations can set one up for stress and disappointment.

Food indulgences during the holidays can affect our mental (and physical) well-being. Overindulging in sugar and alcohol can wreak havoc, not just in our digestive tracts, but in our moods as well.

There is less sunshine during the winter months and this can trigger symptoms of depression in some people. Even in the Tri Cities, winter can be a challenge for our mental health because the cold weather encourages us to stay indoors, limiting sun exposure as well as the amount of outdoor exercise we get - both can exacerbate depression.

Things you can do:

Keep up your healthy habits, even during this season of temptation! You will be surrounded by lots of chocolate, alcohol, and rich foods and you will likely not be in the mood to hit the gym. But nutrition and exercise are key components to good mental health. So do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even a little walk now and then can do much to boost your mood.

Don't expect perfection - we tend to have high, perhaps unrealistic expectations when it comes to holiday gatherings and might feel let down if reality does not meet our expectations - whether it's a picture perfect Martha Stewart dining experience or a close bonding time with siblings. Accept people for who they are - warts, flaws, and all.

Ask for help - whether it's from siblings, friends, community members, or a therapist. Some people are not comfortable asking for help, but this can be essential to getting yourself out of a hole if you are swamped.

Validate your feelings instead of denying them. If you're feeling sad this holiday season, accept your feelings as they are and acknowledge them. You don't have to force yourself to feel a certain way just because it's the holiday season.

Take a break from the holiday chaos and do something nurturing and relaxing for yourself. Christmas will be Christmas regardless of how many presents you wrap or don't wrap - so if you are feeling overwhelmed, take a much-needed break from all the madness.

Be honest with yourself about what you can or cannot do during this time. Some people go overboard with gift giving or social engagements and get overstressed as a result. Learn to say "NO."

Reach out to others less fortunate than yourself - help out in a homeless shelter, a domestic violence shelter, or a senior citizen facility. There will always be someone in need of a helping hand and a warm heart. Even if you have the holiday blues, you can be of service to others and by serving others, you can do some good in the world and perhaps elevate your mood.

I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful holiday filled with lots of kindness and love, and no holiday blues!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2011

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