Overcoming the Holiday Blues

Sad dog in Santa's hat lying on floor at home.

It’s customary to wish everyone “Happy Holidays,” but the holiday season isn’t always happy for a lot of people. We hear from many consumers who struggle during this time of year, both emotionally and financially.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people are affected by the “holiday blues.” It’s important to recognize when these negative feelings are affecting you and why, so you can take healthy steps to combat them.

Why Do People Feel Down During the Holidays?

  1. Major life events are especially impactful this time of year. If you’ve lost a loved one during the previous year, or gone through a divorce, then this will be your first Christmas without someone you used to share the holidays with. That can trigger depression or anxiety that can mount as the other pressures of the season build.
  2. Illness hits hard during the holidays, as the pace of the holiday season kicks in and financial pressures grow. What might have been a manageable level of extra stress and expenses in previous years, can become too much to bear if you or a loved one is going through a serious health crisis.
  3. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, isn’t the same thing as the “holiday blues”, but the two usually coincide. Those with SAD are affected by the changing seasons, whether that’s a change in sleep patterns, a decrease in physical activity, or a decrease in exposure to sunlight. People with SAD will have a harder time managing the stress of the holidays if they’re already being negatively affected by the winter season.
  4. Lack of good nutrition can affect us all, even if we don’t have full-blown seasonal affective disorder. Eating carbohydrate-laden junk food during winter months when physical activity is diminished is not a recipe for good physical or mental health.
  5. Debt is what brings people to see us, and many people see an increase in debt during the holidays. There are so many obligations each of us feel that it can seem easier to just charge all of the expenses that come during the holidays—gifts, decorations, meals and gatherings. But it’s not easier. Using debt to finance holiday expenses only kicks the can down the road and causes a bigger hardship later.

Talk to one of our debt coaches for free and we can help you solve your debt issues.

How to Cope with the Holiday Blues

  • Get help if you need it. If you have clinical depression or seasonal affective disorder, don’t take any chances with your mental health. Get professional help. Serious mental health issues might require medication, while other kinds of anxiety and depression can be helped by talking to someone about your feelings.
  • Debt coaching can really help if your holiday blues are triggered by financial concerns. A financial coach is a neutral 3rd party whose job isn’t to pass judgement or assess blame. They’re here to help. Some people find it’s easier to talk to a professional about their spending issues than a loved one or family member who they might not want to disappoint.
      • Credit.org’s debt coaches are real people who often face the same real-life financial problems that you do. It’s completely free to talk to one of our coaches and they can help you find a personalized and realistic solution to your debt. Get Connected Now

  • Address the reasons for your feelings. Everybody’s anxiety is triggered by a unique factor. Talk through your feelings and uncover why you feel stress or anxiety, then find ways to tackle those specific causes.
      • Get enough exercise—for a lot of people, activity patterns change during the winter months. You might need to start an exercise regimen to ensure you’re getting enough activity.
      • Eat well—don’t succumb to bad dietary habits. Busy holidays mean fast food lunches and eating more desserts and sugary snacks than you’re probably used to. Keep an eye on your food intake and make sure you’re eating balanced and nutritious meals.
      • Limit alcohol intake—if you’re already feeling down, alcohol won’t help. This might be a time of celebratory drinking for many people, but if you’re feeling the holiday blues, don’t make those feelings worse by adding alcohol.
      • Get enough sleep—for various reasons, your sleep patterns are likely to be disrupted during the holidays. Take measures to ensure you’re getting a full night’s sleep every day, and take extra naps if you need them. Lack of sleep is a major cause of depression during the winter time.
      • Celebrate the good things—if you lost a loved one this year, remember the joy you had with them. Yes, it’s painful to go through the holidays after a loss, but if you’re feeling that pain of loss, then the times you are missing must have been good ones. Let yourself reminisce about your lost loved ones and how they always made the holidays brighter.
      • Commit to your good decisions—if this is your first holiday season after a divorce, then you’re probably feeling some strong emotions. But remember, if ending your marriage was the right decision, then acknowledge that the changes you made were for the best, even if they’re making this holiday season tougher.
  • Don’t overextend. Many of us commit to too many holiday activities and obligations every year. You don’t have to buy a lavish gift for everyone, and you don’t have to have a perfectly decorated home. Take control of your time and only commit to what you can comfortably handle.
  • Write down your plans. Put as much of your life in writing as you can. Make to-do lists and stick to them. Write up meal plans to make it easier to eat healthy during the holidays. Create a written budget to control your spending. The more you can write down your goals and plans, the more in control you will be, and the holiday blues will be easier to conquer.

Budgeting During the Holidays

Speaking of written budgets, it’s really important this time of year to have a plan for your finances. Spend some time assessing your current financial situation, and create a plan to survive the season and start the new year on the best possible footing.

  • Start with a write-up of your holiday budget and expenses. If you’ve already budgeted in previous holidays, this will be easy. If not, that’s okay—next year’s holiday budget will be much easier after you create one this year.
      • Check old bank statements, credit card receipts, etc. Put together a picture of what you spent in previous years and come up with an estimate of where your money is going this year. Getting this info down on paper puts you in control and gives you a way to take emotions out of the equation—worry less about how you feel about your financial situation, and focus on what you think about it. This will help you push the blues aside and assess your situation more clinically.
  • Track what you spend—it’s okay if you aren’t able to stick to your budget perfectly, so long as you faithfully track what you do spend. This will make it easier to figure out where you went wrong and avoid making mistakes in the future. It’ll also be useful info for next year’s budget. A little extra work today can make every future holiday season brighter and easier to bear.
  • Get a head start on your new year’s resolutions—if you know you’re going to resolve to get your debt under control in a few weeks, don’t wait. Start today and control your spending wherever you can.

Join our 15-day Money Saving Challenge to Save Money and Reduce Debt.

We offer a free “Surviving the Holidays” workshop, and you can download the .pdf workbook for free from our FIT Academy. Bookmark that page so you can come back and learn about budgeting and credit after the holidays are safely behind you.

Remember, talking through the holiday blues is the best way to tackle your feelings and get control of them. Credit or debt counseling can help, and if you need mental health counseling from a medical professional, take that impulse very seriously and don’t put off getting the right kind of help for your situation.

Our Pre-Purchase Coaching and Home Buyer Education will help you become a successful homeowner.Our Pre-Purchase Coaching and Home Buyer Education will help you become a successful homeowner.

About The Author

Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined credit.org in 2003 and has over 19 years experience in the industry.