Here are the people most prone to the 'holiday blues' – and how to help them
TORONTO -- The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time spent with family and friends, but for some people it can lead to added stress, anxiety and a feeling of isolation.
The “holiday blues,” sometimes called “holiday depression,” is categorized as someone who experiences higher levels of stress and anxiety over the holidays. It can sometimes be combined with seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that occurs as the daylight hours grow shorter.
According to a 2015 study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 per cent of people say they are affected by the holiday blues, while 24 per cent of them say they are affected a lot.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City and the founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, says five groups of people are most likely to be feel the holiday blues:
- those who are recently divorced or widowed;
- small business owners;
- caretakers of elderly parents;
- those recovering from addiction; and,
- children of divorced parents.
“The holidays can be very challenging,” Hafeez wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. “It can involve everything from feeling left out and not included in enough festivities to the pressure of social anxiety and being included in too many festivities.”
Each of these five groups can find the holidays to be tough for a variety of reasons, including the frustration of being alone during this time, witnessing how happy the season can be for others, the financial stress of the holidays and the temptation of alcohol or drugs.
Hafeez said social media also has a role in making the holiday blues feel worse for some people, as regular updates from friends having a great time can be tiresome.
“Social media is the worst place to reinforce this feeling that the whole world is at one big party that you were not invited to,” she said. “The majority of the world edits the best version of their lives for social media. If you are not in a happy place, stay away from people’s feeds that are going to trigger negative feelings within you.”
Judith Orloff, a U.S. psychiatrist and author of “Thriving as an Empath,” told CTV News Channel she advises people to get at least some social contact during the holidays – even if they think they don’t need to.
“Working in a soup kitchen, helping someone else, listening to a friend – any way of being of service can help you be more positive,” she said, adding these things also help to fend off depressive feelings.
To help someone suffering from the holiday blues, Hafeez suggests the biggest thing you can do is make sure to include them, whether it’s something small like asking if they want to help decorate your tree or go shopping, to a larger activity like inviting them to visit for a couple nights.
“Make them feel that they are important to you in your life and not forgotten,” she said. “Feeling forgotten and inconsequential is one of the most significant factors that can lead to holiday blues.”
Orloff agreed and shared her advice for people who’ve recently lost others: that “it’s important not to socially isolate and to (only) focus on the sadness of the loss but also the gratitude for what you have now.”
She said it helps for them to find love and “positive energy” wherever they can, such as caring for pets, helping others or connecting with at least one person you love.
Hafeez says, “for most people who are lacking close friends and family to spend the holidays with, they care much less about lavish gifts and more about the gift of time spent with people who care about them and make them feel relevant.”
If hosting a gathering, Hafeez suggests asking the person what they can do to make them feel comfortable so they can come. Often times, sitting someone with social anxiety next to some close friends can be a good strategy, she adds.
“The last thing you want for some who is depressed during the holidays is for them to go into isolation mode,” she said.
Additionally, helping someone who’s taking care of an elderly parent can be as simple as asking how they’re doing or ordering them a meal, Hafeez said.
Orloff also noted that people should be aware of so-called “energy vampires” – people who drain your energy – such as critical relatives or people who force others to feel sorry for them.
While avoiding certain people might be difficult at family gatherings, it could be as easy as removing onself from the gathering for a brief time, or gravitating towards people who energize you instead.
Children of divorced or separated parents can find themselves in an overwhelming situation as they can face two celebrations, Hafeez said. To help with this, she suggests both parents lock down a plan before the holidays to have all the logistical details confirmed ahead of time.
Entrepreneurs can also struggle during this time, but for different reasons. Small business owners often feel the crunch as the year comes to a close. Often, this means working longer hours when they would rather be spending time with their family.
Hafeez suggests the best thing to do for an entrepreneur is to help them out and make sure they know it’s OK to show up late for a gathering.