The holiday season is often associated with feeling joyous. But for many, that is not the case.

It’s called the “holiday blues,” and this can be due to seasonal changes in eating and sleeping habits, financial struggles, challenges within a relationship, medical problems, or the death of a loved one, said Dr. Debra Wentz, President, and CEO of the NJ Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

Many factors like isolation and even the weather can bring on feelings of loneliness, she added. Those who live alone, the elderly, and those grieving, tend to experience feelings of loneliness more than others.

What are some signs of the holiday blues?

Insomnia, low energy, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anxiousness are all symptoms, Wentz said. Additional signs might include a lack of motivation, procrastination, fatigue, things that people usually found pleasurable no longer do, and a change in sleeping and eating patterns, as well as weight loss and weight gain.

There may also be some persistent physical symptoms of the holiday blues, Wentz said. Those may include chronic pain, digestive disorders that don’t respond to treatment, difficulty concentrating, remembering things, feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless, and there can even be thoughts of suicide and death.

If someone feels suicidal, Wentz said they should consult a professional at the NJ Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

How do you cope with the holiday blues?

Have realistic expectations and goals, and set boundaries, Wentz said.

“Don’t try to do everything. It’s OK to say no to an event or to go late and leave early,” she said.

Plan ahead and stick to a budget. Many people feel pressure, especially those who lost their jobs and don’t have a lot of money. She said the holidays don’t always have to be about expensive gifts.

Get some exercise. She said exercise improves one’s mood and increases energy levels. Even just taking a walk outside in the crisp, fresh air can lift someone’s spirits.

Enjoy some unique holiday activities. During the holidays many themed activities and events are happening all around.

“It’s a great chance to get into the spirit, make new memories, go to a holiday show, visit nearby neighborhoods decorated in lights,” Wentz said.

But the best way to deal with the holiday blues is to connect with others, she said. By that she means real human contact, not connecting on social media.

“Remember you’re not alone. Even if you may long to be with family or you’re mourning loved ones or past relationships, by talking to other people and sharing your feelings, you will feel better. It’s okay, too, if you feel uncomfortable and burdened by feelings of loneliness and find it challenging to deal with,” Wentz said.

Just be sure to speak to a professional about those feelings.

Connecting with others can be as simple as exchanging pleasantries with neighbors and co-workers, sending out cards, or video chatting with old acquaintances.

Connecting with others strengthens bonds and it can help people feel less lonely.
Engaging in fun and exciting activities will distract people from negative thoughts and allows them to focus on building a supportive network.

Practice self-care. Wentz can’t stress enough how important it is to take care of yourself to battle the holiday blues. Exercise, eat healthy, nutritious meals, get enough sleep, relax in a warm, soothing bath, read a great book, take up a new hobby or enjoy an old one again.

Volunteering is also a great way to bring joy to others and yourself by giving back. She suggested donating coats, collecting canned goods at work, or helping to serve meals at a soup kitchen.

What to do when the holidays stress you out?

If you get stressed out by all the upcoming holiday events and never-ending to-do lists for the holidays, Wentz said to put a plan in place.

This could include setting a spending budget, shopping early, and mapping out which holiday events and parties you’ll be attending. But most important, keep your routine. It’s about consistency.

What if someone is dealing with a recent loss?

Reach out and check on these people. Let them know you care, Wentz said. Try to get them actively engaged, to get their minds off the loneliness. Don’t let them be alone too much. It’s okay if they need some time to themselves, though.

“Reaching out can make a big difference to let them know that someone cares,” Wentz said.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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