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Holiday Blues Clues and Cues

Clues and Cues for Your Holiday Blues

By Carol Kivler, MS, CSP

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 internet, television commercials, movie theaters, store windows, magazines and billboards. A mild brainwashing occurs and we hypnotically buy in to 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 the economy 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.Keep in mind, the competition for your business is greater than ever. Wait until Black Friday to start shopping as that's the time of the year that the deepest discounts occur in-store and online. You'll save a lot of money.

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, framed photographs, meals or poetry, even a handmade card. 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!

Also, if you're not into the holiday shopping season or large crowds, you can now shop relatively safely online these days. It saves time, money and is frustration-free and crowd-free. Just make sure you shop on trusted sites that are well known and respected. Before using your credit card, make sure the site is secure. One way to verify a site's security is to check the website address. Be sure it starts with https and not just http. The s means it's a secure site. Do not shop at sites that you have never heard of, even if they're offering a good deal. There are many scams out there. Poor quality sites often set up for the holidays, get your money, then disappear. Use familiar companies like Walmart, Macy's, Apple, Dell, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, etc. Almost all reputable stores have an online presence now. And best of all, there are great discounts around the holiday season. Also, at check out, if they ask if you want to save your card or address online, check no. Always review their return and delivery policies before purchasing as you want to ensure items can be returned if necessary, how they allow returns ie: by mail, UPS, or drive to the store, if you or they pay for returns, and be certain the delivery will arrive in your desired time-frame. At the end of your purchase, always print out your receipt. The holidays are the biggest delivery time of year for packages so things can get backed up. Overnight deliveries can get very expensive so shop with enough advance time in mind. Be sure your packages are delivered to your office or home when someone is there to receive them. There has been a huge new wave of thieves stealing packages left out in the open. So beware.

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. Show up and surround yourself with those that here and now, celebrate with them the lives of those you lost and share fond memories. It will be good for you and them. If distance is a problem, make a phone call or use Skype to create new memories and share holiday good will.

Cues – Just as families change, holiday get-together's 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, an ugly sweater or an ornament). Consider having everyone bring an instrument along (there are always pots and spoons for those who don’t have an instrument, 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, weather permitting.

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! To keep your holidays merry, have a family meeting to share in the decision on how you want to spend the holidays and with whom. Keep in mind, it's OK to conquer and divide. You may all agree to all go to grandma's house together but then decide it's best to split up to visit family and friends others don't feel comfortable around. Most people understand today that it's hard for one family to see everyone so better to split up and cover more ground.

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. Visit a vet. 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. Make a snow castle. Visit a city battered by a hurricane or tornado and hug people. Leave your environment for a few days, take a trip. 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 grand-children, 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. Now you can video your favorite moments and share them online or send to family and friends far away.


Carol Kivler, MS, CSP, is a passionate consumer advocate, speaker, author and the founder of Courageous Recovery. She speaks to consumers, their loved ones and healthcare professionals to raise awareness, instill hope and combat stigma 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 through keynotes, breakouts and Grand Rounds.

Along with Courageous Recovery, Carol is also the founder and president of Kivler Communications which provides executive coaching and customized workforce development training. Carol was the first consumer on the Board of Directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Mercer, NJ and continues to be actively involved in its mission. Carol is also a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), the American Society of Training & Development, and the Mercer County Community College Advisory Commission.

Carol lives in Lawrence Township, NJ and is the proud mother of three grown children and five grandchildren. She is an avid reader, life-long learner, gardener and amateur baker.

Please visit the author’s website and blog