Dr. Dara Schwartz, PhD, a clinical psychologist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, explains that the “holiday blues” is not a new phenomenon but one that will be magnified due to the pandemic.
“Temporary feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness are normal and a natural occurrence that we often see around the holidays,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Stressors during this time include financial stress, pressure for these months to be the ‘most wonderful time of the year,’ demands to host or alter your schedule, to travel, and food and drink temptations.”
Pandemic heightens holiday stressors
While these holiday stressors existed long before COVID-19, this year’s pandemic has heightened and expanded many of these feelings.
“This year, the holidays have become even more stressful,” explains Dr. Schwartz. “We are all fatigued, stressed and worried. We may be increasingly sad because we can’t have the plans we want to have or see the people we want to see, or perhaps the family we are choosing to see makes us extra concerned for our safety and the well-being of our loved ones.”
Loneliness, tearfulness, irritability and isolation — beyond that caused by the pandemic — are common feelings this time of year, according to Dr. Schwartz. However, it’s the duration and impact these feelings have on our daily life that can determine whether we are experiencing something more serious, like depression or anxiety.
Dr. Schwartz explains that accepting and managing our emotions is going to be an important exercise in finding peace this holiday season. She encourages people to tap into the humanity of this shared experience.
“You are not experiencing all of this disappointment or changes to your normal plans alone,” says Dr. Schwartz. “The entire world has been disrupted. We are all having to adjust what we want, to what we can do this year.”
The pain and suffering we feel from these disappointments come when we struggle with our thoughts and emotions, says Dr. Schwartz.
How to avoid staying ‘stuck in the yuck’
“It’s in the struggle, the frustration, the wishing it wasn’t so that we stay ‘stuck in the yuck,’” explains Dr. Schwartz. “Notice your feelings and thoughts, as they are valid and real. Then — and this takes some work — commit to doing something that is helpful to you and aligned with who you are as a person.”
While the way one moves past feelings of disappointment and frustration is unique to each person, Dr. Schwartz provides the following ideas for staying positive and navigating emotions this holiday season:
- Stay active — both mentally and physically.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Practice gratitude — put focus on all you have to be thankful for and avoid emphasizing what you lack.
- Pay attention to your thoughts — aim to have healthy and balanced thoughts throughout your day.
- Accept your thoughts and emotions for what they are — don’t get stuck on them. Notice them and commit yourself to living according to your values.
- Do something for someone else — one good deed, one small compliment, one hand-written note of appreciation goes a long way during the holiday season.