Click here to register for NAMI Austin’s free “Coping with the Holiday Blues” event on December 7.

If you think you or someone you love is in crisis and needs immediate attention, please call 911 or visit our Crisis Resource page for more information and resources. For a list of local mental health and counseling resources, scroll to the bottom of the page.

What are the Holiday Blues?

The Holiday Blues refer to feelings of anxiety or depression during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. They may be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season. They may include:

  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Sadness
  • A sense of loss
  • Fatigue
  • Tension
  • Frustration

The difference between the holiday blues and clinical anxiety or depression is that the feelings are temporary. They may come and go around specific holiday activities. However, if they are present for more than two weeks, especially every day, the mental health problem may be more serious.

It’s also important to understand that people already diagnosed with a mental illness can feel the holiday blues—and need to take extra care of themselves.

What Causes the Holiday Blues?

Many factors can someone’s mood over the holidays, including:

  • Less sunlight (October –March).
  • Changes in diet or routines.
  • Alcohol is a depressant. Too much alcohol can create or intensify depressive moods, and the holiday season is filled with parties.
  • Extra stress comes from holiday preparations or family demands. Buying presents, hosting events, preparing meals and even the pressure of getting holiday cards in the mail on time can wear a person down.
  • Unrealistic expectations, such as wanting to attend every gathering you’re invited to or wanting to spend more than your budget allows on gifts.
  • Over-commercialization of the season through advertising and store sales.
  • Inability to travel or attend family gatherings.
  • Feeling a difference between past holidays and the present one—sometimes because of the loss of a loved one or change in your living or work situation.

holidayblues-infographic-blue-1

Avoiding the Holiday Blues

  • Stick to normal routines as much as possible.
  • Get enough sleep or rest.
  • Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with supportive, caring people.
  • Eat and drink in moderation. Don’t’ drink alcohol if you are feeling down.
  • Get exercise—even if it’s only taking a short walk.
  • Make a to-do list. Keep things simple.
  • Set reasonable expectations and goals for holiday activities such as shopping, cooking, entertaining, attending parties or sending holiday cards.
  • Set a budget for holiday activities. Don’t overextend yourself financially in buying presents.
  • Listen to music.
  • Remember that holiday blues are short-term. Be patient. Take things week by week and day by day.

How Do You Know When It’s More than Just the Blues?

If symptoms of depression or anxiety last more than 2 or 3 weeks, it could indicate a more serious mental health problem. There are basic steps that a person experiencing symptoms or family members and friends can take. These are steps that can be taken any time of the year.

  • Talk with your doctor (or pediatrician). A comprehensive physical exam needs to be part of assessment to rule out some physical causes.
  • Get a referral to a mental health professional; a call from your doctor may help you to avoid a long waiting list.
  • Educate yourself or recommend a resource to a person. Someone may know that something is off, but not recognize or understand symptoms or how to find help.
  • If a friend or relative is showing symptoms, ask them privately how things are going. If needed, use a prompt like “You seem a little sad or frustrated. What’s been going on lately?” Don’t be judgmental or trivialize what they may be feeling.
  • Offer to make the appointment for the person and accompany them to the doctor’s office or mental health clinic for moral support. It can make a big difference.

Children and the Blues

Child and adolescent psychiatric hospitalizations peak during winter months, including the holiday season.

Children are perceptive. They pick up on the mood of parents and other family members. They also feel the loss of close family members who may have died with whom they have celebrated in the past, such as grandparents. They can feel loss from other changes, such as a deployed parent or family upheavals such as moving, divorce, etc.

It’s important to keep in mind that children and teenagers also aren’t limited to simply feeling “blue.” Fifty percent of lifetime cases of mental illness show signs by age 14.

Local Resources

NAMI Austin Mental Health Resource Guide
Community Counseling Resources (low cost/sliding scale)

NAMI Blogs from Holidays Past

Beat Back the Holiday Blues
Depression during the Holidays: Helping Family Members
Less Sunlight Means More Blues for Some
Don’t Forget to Share Love and Thanks

Information from the National Alliance on Mental Illness at nami.org.

Other Holiday Blogs

Coping with the Holidays Survival Guide
Holiday Survival When Anxious or Depressed