‘Tis the season to be jolly! Or is it? For many people, the holidays are anything but jolly. Depression, loneliness and overwhelm can turn what is supposed to be an upbeat, joyous time of year into a dreadful period that some would rather skip completely. The blues brought on by the holidays are as varied as ornaments on a tree.

If you experience dread thinking about the upcoming holiday season, it may help you to determine the biggest culprit, so that you take steps to alleviate the blues, even a little.

Here are some of the most common clues (or indications) of the holiday blues, followed by the cues (or problem-solving stimulus) to minimize the blues:

Unrealistic expectations
Clues – Many people struggle to live up to the glorious images that bombard us from every direction, including television, movie theaters, store windows, magazines and billboards. A mild brainwashing occurs and we hypnotically buy into the fact that without the perfect decorations, holiday attire, latest recipes, and trendy gift ideas, that we just don’t measure up. We set ourselves up for failure, because it is the rare person that can achieve that state of perfection!
Cues – Limit your exposure to these images and remember that most of them are used to sell products more than to paint a realistic picture. Set up realistic holiday goals that fulfill your holiday needs but don’t overwhelm you. Remember, “less is more,” and for those around you, they won’t remember how wonderful you looked, how great you decorated, or how much you spent…but they will remember how you made them feel.

Financial pressure
Clues – There’s no doubt that an economy like this one will fill more seats on the “holiday blues bus.” If you have had a recent financial setback, it can be especially difficult facing the fact that there is less money to spend on the holiday season then there was before.
Cues – Keep in mind that you are not alone. Many people are in the same boat and spending far less on the holidays then they did in years past. But the gift of “time” is far more valuable to the average person than a gift of monetary value, meaning this could turn out to be the most heartfelt holiday you’ve ever experienced. Consider homemade gifts, photographs, meals or poetry. How about giving someone on your list a scalp massage or organizing their kitchen cabinets? These types of gifts are treasured more than your retailers want you to know!

Physical and emotional fatigue
Clues – Shopping, wrapping, baking, visiting; not to mention all the other things we normally do in a given day, can absolutely turn holiday joy into dread. Add to the mix all the high calorie, low energy calories we consume over the holidays and it’s no wonder we feel exhausted!
Cues – Don’t overdo it and repeat after me, “Focus, Delegate, and Let Go.” Focus on a few of the most important aspects of the holiday season, things you just can’t do without. Delegate tasks to family members and friends; it makes them feel valued! Let go of the rest, especially the unrealistic expectations and the need to provide everyone with a picture perfect holiday. Don’t get caught up in the mad rush. Your good health is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

Strained family dynamics
Clues – The holidays seem to focus on the family unit more than anything else. And if the family unit has changed through death, divorce, discord or disease, it can be especially devastating around the holiday.
Cues – Just as families change, holiday get-togethers can, too. If family tension begins to rise to the surface, have tension-diffusers ready: a funny video, an interesting game that captures everyone’s attention, an article of clothing for everyone to put on (like a goofy hat, or a boa). Consider having everyone bring an instrument along (there are always pots and spoons for those who don’t have an instruments, or keep a couple kazoos around). Or consider asking everyone to bring their sneakers so that once the meal is over and before the tension has a chance to begin, everyone can take a walk together.

Outdated traditions
Clues – Financial situations change, families dynamics change, and trends change. But traditions are an inherited, established pattern, and the fact is, they can be as uncomfortable as an ill-fitting shoe!
Cues – There is no law against letting go of outdated traditions! It may be time for you to ditch traditions that augment your blues, and create new traditions that better suit your personality. Be bold and consider some of these ideas:

Take the family to a movie. Visit a nursing home. Go out dancing. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Round up some people who celebrate alone and bring them to your house to mingle. Go to the beach and play football in the sand. Go on a vacation. Visit a city battered by a hurricane and hug people. Leave your environment for a few days. Whatever it takes to keep your spirits up and keep your blues at bay.

My traditional family unit changed through my own divorce several years ago. Therefore, our traditional holiday celebrations needed an overhaul. With three children, their spouses and five grandchildren, one of my favorite new traditions is building gingerbread houses with five sets of little fingers. The dining room is covered with icing and crumbs and gummy candy and lots of love and laughter and lifelong memories. What are your favorite moments?

Carol Kivler, MS, CSP, is a passionate consumer advocate, speaker, author and the founder of Courageous Recovery. She raises awareness, instills hope and combats stigmas surrounding mental health diagnoses and treatments. Carol shares her journey of recovery from four bouts of medication-resistant depression and her positive experience with the life-saving treatment ECT (Shock Therapy). In addition to her most recent book, The ABCs of Recovery from Mental Illness, Carol is the author of Will I Ever Be the Same Again? Transforming the Face of ECT, and Blessings: My Journal of Gratitude. Carol is also the founder and president of Kivler Communications, a corporate training and international executive coaching firm. For more information, visit www.CourageousRecovery.com and www.CarolKivler.com.

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