Why You May Be Experiencing the Holiday Blues … and What You Can Do About It

December 20, 2021

Blog - Holidays can bring sadness and it's okay - South Texas Health System, Edinburg, TexasAlong with joy and excitement, sadness and anxiety are common emotions many people experience during the holidays.

For some, it’s a time to connect with family and loved ones. But for others, as South Texas Health System Behavioral Psychiatrist Ricardo Irizarry, MD, explains, it can bring about feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“When it comes to the holiday blues, for most people there’s a sense of nostalgia because they have lost somebody or there has been a separation — or any change in a person’s social structure that suddenly creates a sense that there is something missing,” Irizarry says. “Now that person is no longer there to spend time with you, so it seems as if the holidays are not like they used to be.”

While “holiday blues” is not a recognized psychiatric condition, it may present itself as symptoms of depression — including changes in sleep and eating patterns, irritability, exhaustion and difficulty concentrating — that can disrupt one’s quality of life.

Beyond being spurred by the emotional toll of grieving a life or relationship, Dr. Irizarry says reduced sunlight exposure can compound the season’s depressive impact in individuals already struggling with mood dysregulation. “In the United States, there’s a high percentage of people suffering mood disorders, so there's a big portion of the population that tends to struggle a bit more,” he says.

However, if the individual suffering has not previously been diagnosed with a mental illness or mood disorder, Dr. Irizarry says holiday blues may be just that — a seasonal feeling of sadness — and they may expect to return to their baseline after the new year.

That doesn’t mean, however, that one should just commit to having a miserable holiday season.  Regardless of the circumstances and any recent major changes, Dr. Irizarry says simple practices can make a world of difference in helping to stave off a case of the blues and making the holidays a more cheerful time.

Timely Tips to Beat the Holiday Blues

  • Acknowledge your feelings and check in with yourself regularly
  • Turn to a support group
  • Find something positive about the holiday
  • Plan ahead and discuss holiday plans with friends and family
  • Don’t spread yourself thin with too many commitments

Dr. Irizarry adds there is a fine line between simply experiencing holiday blues and having a legitimate mood disorder requiring treatment. Should depressive symptoms persist beyond the holidays, he advises seeking help.