Holiday blues – Surviving the holidays and mental health

Happy couple embracing in front of Christmas tree

How to Survive the Holiday Blues and Maintain Good Mental Health

The “summertime blues” are a common phenomenon among many individuals, but the holiday blues, while just as prevalent, aren’t as normalized. The holiday blues can be far worse for many people, and there are reasons for this that often compound each other. But it’s possible to counter this by identifying potential issues and devising solutions.

The Perfect Storm: Identifying Potential Issues

While happy holiday images are prevalent during the season, another side often gets ignored, leading to unexpected issues that impact people’s mental health. Normalizing the reality of the holiday season can prepare people to cope better with the curveballs that get thrown their way.

Media and Fantasy set Unrealistic Expectations

The media sets high expectations with advertisements showing happy families and romantic proposals. Candy canes line the streets, beautiful lights are in storefronts, and Christmas carols play early. Many individuals fantasize about their holiday season, which feeds into these external messages.

Sensory Overload can be Overwhelming

The holiday season is full of visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli, which can be both positive and negative. Lights, decorations, smells, and Christmas carols can be wonderful pick-me-ups, but the overload can also become overwhelming.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

Many individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a decrease in Vitamin D caused by less exposure to sunlight. People in northern areas are impacted more since it gets dark much earlier than in the south. People can also experience Cabin Fever due to being cooped up because of weather conditions.

Changes in Routine and Relationships

Many individuals spend time away from home or with visitors in theirs or are simply alone during the holiday season. This can lead to them being out of their comfort zone and around people they’re not used to. When routines are thrown off by loved ones, it can be tough to show them a great time and contribute to the season of love and kindness.

Money and Financial Stress

The holiday season is one of the most financially stressful times of the year. Individuals spend money on travel, gifts, food, decorations, and other expenses. Financial stress is the number one reason for relationship stress. A budget can help to plan and manage expenses to avoid debt.

Understanding the Impact of the Storm

After identifying a few key ingredients, let’s explore one theory that explains why the blues can hit so hard during the storm.

In essence, all the sensory cues set an impossibly high bar. Everything seems perfect, with happy people, healthy families, and the sweet aroma of baked goods filling the air. Kids are overjoyed with their toys, and adults are relishing each other’s company. It’s all happiness and joy, which sets an unrealistic expectation.

But when you factor in the financial burden, stress of being in someone else’s home, or even the potential for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this creates a very real and stressful experience that can drag us down. However, there is hope. This hope is realistic and achievable.

How to Counter the Perfect Storm: Solutions

While it may seem like the perfect storm, there are ways to counter the holiday blues and maintain good mental health. These solutions can help individuals have a better holiday season.

Normalize Reality

Normalizing the reality of the holiday season can prepare individuals to cope better with the curveballs that get thrown their way. Acknowledge that not everything is perfect, and it’s okay to set boundaries and expectations.

Set Realistic Expectations

Setting realistic expectations can help individuals avoid feeling overwhelmed by the sensory overload that comes with the holiday season. Take the time to plan and prioritize what’s important and enjoyable.

Get Enough Vitamin D

Getting enough Vitamin D can help individuals overcome S.A.D. and Cabin Fever. Try to get outside during the day, even for a short time, to increase exposure to sunlight.

Manage Relationships

Managing relationships during the holiday season can be tricky, but setting boundaries and expectations can help individuals avoid stress and enjoy time with loved ones.

Manage Finances

Managing finances during the holiday season can be stressful, but budgeting and planning can help individuals avoid debt and enjoy the season without financial stress.


The holiday season can be overwhelming, but by identifying potential issues and devising solutions, individuals can counter the holiday blues and maintain good mental health. Normalize reality, set realistic expectations, get enough Vitamin D, manage relationships, and manage finances. These solutions can help individuals enjoy the season without feeling overwhelmed.

Learn more about Counseling for Depression in Austin.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.


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