Beating the Blahs

The holiday season can be a tough time for many people, especially those prone to depression.  Family pressures, unrealistic expectations, frantic gift buying, money worries and short days can contribute to a less than gleeful disposition.

Damn Expectations

Every year provides another opportunity to trim holiday expectations along with the tree.  Think about one holiday task that you dislike and ask yourself what would happen if you eliminated that responsibility.  Just fantasizing about not decorating the house or buying your coworkers presents or making homemade jam can be fun.  I have found over the years, that once I stop doing one of those holiday “shoulds”, no one seems to care…much.

For many years, a family in our neighborhood hosted an elaborate Christmas dinner party for scores of neighbors and friends. In addition to shouldering the expense of this dinner, the woman of the couple worked for months cooking, baking and freezing all her homemade creations.  She even made her daughters their party dresses. (I might add that she worked fulltime during this period.)  We were all in awe and looked forward to the yearly gala-- until she pulled the plug. One year she said, “no more.”  Life went on as we knew it; no one thought less of her.  Frankly, I was relieved on her behalf; she seemed more normal to me when she stopped the insanity.

What is your brand of insanity?  I challenge you to stop doing one of your least favorite obligations.  Try it and see what happens.


Holiday depression can be triggered by any number of events or circumstances. Unpleasant family encounters, insipid holiday music, or clueless drivers can be enough to begin a chain reaction of negative feelings. Understanding and avoiding your personal triggers is a strategy for avoiding the blues.

I often try to get away during the holidays; if I can, I like to do something different. I’ve had a few very successful getaways, primarily to Central America -- except for one year.  My husband and I went to a wellness retreat in Mexico that looked great on paper.  What I hadn’t factored in was that the facility was kid-friendly and we were going during school break.  The place was overrun with children of all ages, their parents and grandparents.  I walked into a freakin’ Hallmark card of family gatherings!

One of my triggers is large family gatherings.  My extended family of origin is comprised of a motley assortment of characters, some of whom hold grudges for generations.  I’ve always bristled at Norman Rockwell-type gatherings; I don’t get them.

What are your triggers?  Make a list and plan a strategy to avoid at least one of them.


In the name of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a conspicuous consumer. But shopping during the holidays can be a huge drag.  Just this week, I turned my car around rather than deal with the intensity of the San Francisco Bay Bridge traffic.  Traffic, crowds and money anxiety are enough to drive even the jolliest of us over the edge.

I’ve often felt obliged to buy all my coworkers little gifts or make them something from my kitchen; this was a huge stressor for me.  The reality is that few of them appreciated what I had purchased or made and yet, I couldn’t stop myself for too many years.  Slowly, I started cutting back; last year I gave a candy bar and a card to my supervisor and a more substantial gift to just one other co-worker.

I still like giving gifts to special people in my life and wouldn’t want to stop this tradition. But I find each year gets a bit easier to do things my way: to simplify the process and shorten the list.

Eating and Drinking

Parties and get-togethers this time of year are sometimes fun but can be a minefield for people trying to control their food and/or alcohol consumption.  Overeating and excessive sugar and alcohol intake wreak havoc on one’s year-round, healthy regime and good tidings.

Loading up on veggies and avoiding the empty calories is always good advice any time of year.  Rather than obsessing about what you can and can’t eat during this season, however, best to practice mindful eating. If you eat what you love and love what you eat, you’ll wake up respecting yourself in the morning.

Call Your Lifeline

And if you’re feeling overwhelmed or blah, reach out to a friend who may also need to vent. Rather than seeing yourself as a burden, you may be helping someone else connect in a meaningful way.  Really, many of us are feeling just a bit like an outsider these days. Hearing from a kindred spirit can be just the antidote to holiday madness.

HealthSusan HaworthComment