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How to cope with the seasonal blues Print
Guest column
Thursday, Jan. 08, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

QUESTION: While everyone else seems joyful, I often feel depressed around the holidays. Could you suggest some ways to cope with the holiday blues?

RESPONSE: By William McKenna, M.S., clinical extern at the IPS Center for Psychological Services

We so often hear Christmas songs with lines such as, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" and "Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer!"

High expectations are set for us to feel as if we don't have a care in the world. Yet many of us are left feeling down and sad during this season, and we cannot seem to figure out why, let alone how to feel better.

Added stress

The idea of travelling and attending large family gatherings and parties, as well as general added stress, can make this time very difficult.

In fact, anxiety and depression are very common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), three out of four people surveyed reported feeling anxious and/or depressed during the holiday season.

Schedules are full and elevated anticipation and pressure oftentimes leaves people feeling overwhelmed and sad.

How to cope

How do I cope with the seasonal blues?

First, acknowledge your feelings. What am I experiencing this year that may be different than years past? If there has been a loss in the family, it is important to realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief, even during the holidays.

It is okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can record your thoughts on a note card, or in a journal to help with understanding what you are experiencing.

Take your time and be patient with yourself; you may be surprised with your improvement in mood.

Second, spend time in community. Oftentimes, spending time with others without the social pressure of holiday parties helps us reflect on the value of our relationships.

Thirdly, set realistic expectations. Many people think the holidays have to be perfect or just like the year before and they rarely are.

As families develop and grow, traditions often go through changes as well. Trying to be flexible can be challenging, but focusing on the present moment with those around us can help ease the difficulty.

Lastly, seek professional help if you find that, despite your best efforts, you find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, struggling with physical complaints, and unable to function normally day to day.

If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

It is important to remember that you are not alone -- this time of year is challenging for a number of people. However, despite all the difficulties that may present themselves, there is always hope.

After all, the Prince of Peace is coming to meet us in the celebration of His birth!

Have a practical question related to psychology and faith? Write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information about IPS (the Institute for the Psychological Sciences), visit