Holiday blues: Exit strategy

Holiday blues: exit stategy

A lot of people don’t feel OK to talk about it but many dread the holidays. This is particularly the case if you may have a problem with depression or substance use. However, the many expectations associated with the holidays can affect anyone.

I have found that the underlying cause of holiday blues is expectations based upon past experiences and present disappointments. These can include:

  • Reminders of difficult experiences during the holidays with family and/or friends
  • Expectations of others’ generosity
  • Expectations of closer relationships with others (how lonely or isolated one may be during the year is much more apparent at this time)
  • Financial strain which results from spending resources which one doesn’t have or disappointment about not being able to buy presents for others

Getting through the season, or better yet, actually enjoying this time is dependent upon you being proactive not reactive. Taking responsibility for your mood during the holidays is as simple as implementing some strategies. This involves taking some time to think things through; each person has unique triggers which affect their mood. The following are some strategies that have worked for others:

  • Focus on those times that you had a positive experience of the holidays. Examine what factors made that time enjoyable and try to implement some of those things this year.
  • Plan a vacation with friends and/or family over the Christmas holiday.
  • Create your own tradition whether it be religious or spiritual. It could also be a ritual of some kind. Make the holiday come alive to YOU.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter, food bank, senior center, etc.
  • Begin a gratitude practice in November and stay with it over the holidays. Use this time as a period of preparation for changes that you want to make for the new year.
  • Reach out to others as you would like them to reach out to you, i.e., send cards, make contact with 1 or 2 people that you have lost touch with, or do something nice for a friend.
  • Offer your services to friends or family as a gift. This could include watering their plants when they are on vacation, running errands, cooking them a meal, cleaning their house or manicuring their garden.
  • Keep track of your alcohol and/or drug use. During the holidays you may be tempted to drink or use drugs more but this can have a negative effect on your mood.  This is a simple way to realistically see how and when you use and very often can help you to cut down.

I hope these suggestions are helpful in adding to your enjoyment of this time of year. Feel free to add other suggestions that we all may benefit from. Dare I say, happy holidays!

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.

Taking the fall and getting back up: Doing the work to age well


Aging is an ongoing experience of limitation if you sit back and let it be.

I’m sitting here waiting for a friend to get out of surgery. She is in her early 70’s, a vibrant human being who appears and acts much younger. But age has come to visit. She tripped over some wires and broke her hip. She is well aware that this can lead to permanent disability and a shortened life span. She feels totally unprepared. It’s truly scary.

She has just come out of surgery and has been wheeled to her room. What’s on her mind? Her regret about not taking care of business and missed opportunities for fulfillment. Luckily she has a good doctor who has advised her that, with rehab, she is likely to make a full recovery. She considers this a wake-up call to address a number of things in her life.

How do you remain optimistic when you see the walls of life closing in on you? Frailty, memory issues and the loss of family members and friends amplify the perceived diminishment of self.

But you can be happy and fulfilled as you get older. Let us count the ways…

  1. Give other people the benefit of your wisdom. There is something to be said for living a long time. You have been through a lot in life and have had many experiences that you have learned from. Mentor a younger person who can benefit from your advice and guidance.
  2. Come to terms with your relationships to your friends and family. If you have a good relationship with everyone, great, no problem. But if you have struggled in some relationships, attempt to open up the lines of communication and make amends if necessary. Let go of whether they own up to their part in things. You have no control over other people’s thoughts and actions. Be glad that you showed up and owned up.
  3. See your friends and family members regularly even if you have to schedule time with them on your calendar. Go to family functions and put up with your brother’s noisy kids and your hard-of-hearing aunt. Remember they are not around forever and you may be the odd uncle in the corner someday yourself. Make special time for those who bring out the best in you. You know who they are.
  4. Stay active. Use it or lose it. Get out and be physical however you can. Dance, go to the gym, walk, row, do yoga. Exercise can be fun if you find an activity that actually excites you. See this as an extension of going out to play as a kid. You didn’t need anything to motivate you then, did you? If you have a physical disability seek out a class that is tailored to your needs.
  5. Consider moving closer to those who will be there for you in a pinch. This may or may not be your family members; living near or with good friends may be a better choice for some people. Be there to celebrate the good times and support each other in the bad times.
  6. Take up a new mentally stimulating activity, something that excites you but you’ve been putting off doing for awhile. Learn to tango. Learn a new language. Take up playing an instrument. These activities have been shown to be more effective in maintaining cognitive functioning in older adults than crossword puzzles, sudoku or online brain training.
  7. Most importantly, cultivate a positive attitude. Spend time at the beginning and the end of the day being grateful. Write down what you are grateful for. Email it to yourself so that you can look at it throughout the day. Consider starting a meditation practice. Develop your own affirmations at the end of your practice. Read something that inspires you.

Aging well is about preparation, acting in ways that make us happy and preserving this happiness as long as possible. There’s work for us to do. Let’s get to it.