Beating the Holiday Blues

December 8, 2022



                               Tips for coping with whatever you may face this holiday season 

A version of this article can be found in the Nov/Dec edition of Katonah Connect

While there are many things to love about the holiday season, from the bright lights and beautiful decorations to the all-around good cheer. But for some (heck, for most), this time of year can bring up a lot of 'stuff' and leave us a little emotionally drained. Perhaps you have a close-knit family, but you can’t make it home this year. Or maybe you don’t have anyone special to celebrate with or feel like you’re missing out on meaningful holiday celebrations. If you’re feeling down about the holidays, there are ways to manage your thoughts and feelings, and maybe even find something to be thankful for. 

Don’t assume other people are having a stellar holiday experience 

The holidays are a notoriously difficult time for many people, largely because of the assumptions that come along with them. “Many of my clients believe they are alone with their holiday challenges,” says Melinda Canno-Velez, LMSW, a therapist in Pound Ridge. “But people everywhere face issues with family, finances and unmet expectations this time of year.”  Almost everyone has their own struggles during this time of year, and yours is simply one version of that struggle. 

Keep expectations to a minimum 

Keep your expectations in check by staying in the present before, during and after any holiday-related activities. The more you keep yourself in the present and focus on what you do enjoy, versus thinking about all the joy you should be feeling this holiday season, the better you can manage whatever experience you do have.  

“Being in the present can prevent you from imagining unrealistic outcomes for future events,” explains Cynthia Haupt LCSW, PLLC, a therapist in Cross River.  “Try to stay mindful of your thoughts and intentions throughout the day, and do things that create a positive impact in the moment.”

Replace anticipation with action 

Anticipation of what’s to come can be overwhelming, but doing something productive (instead of ruminating on all the possible outcomes of the holidays) can help ease your mind. Consider starting that project you’ve wanted to tackle, setting aside time to learn a new skill or volunteering at your favorite charity. 

Plan ahead with self-care strategies 

Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of the holidays to figure out how to navigate them – start now. Determine what you’re going to do to keep your spirits up (or at least not too far down). For example, you can take a day trip to a nearby town or museum you’d like to visit, spend time in nature, volunteer at a local charity, schedule an extra therapy session or work on the aforementioned project. 

Consider volunteering

Thanksgiving and Christmas come with lots of volunteer opportunities, and showing up for others – even if you feel like you can scarcely manage as it is – will be more than worth it. When you give yourself a concrete task, it pushes you up and out at a time when you may just want to lay in bed (which is almost guaranteed to make you feel worse). 

This is also a great reminder that you have something valuable to offer, and that you are needed and appreciated – things you may not be feeling much of during this time. 

Don’t pressure yourself to give the best gifts or host the biggest celebration

“COVID-19 has greatly contributed to people’s holiday stress, in part because they can’t afford to celebrate like they have in past years,” explains Canno-Velez. “Many of my clients experience guilt because they cannot give their children the same experiences they’ve had in the past. So, I remind them that it’s the quality of their time together, as opposed to quantity of gifts, that kids will ultimately remember. Engaging your children in the act of giving back in some way can also help them focus on the spirit of the holiday.”

Try to take a logical (as opposed to emotional) approach to the holidays

Be honest with yourself if you’re struggling. This may be a difficult time, but you’ve experienced challenges before and got through them, and were okay on the other side. Some calming techniques can help keep you clear-headed.

“The most important strategies for managing difficulties over the holidays are often the simplest,” says Haupt. “Remember to take deep breaths, pause, talk kindly to and about yourself, and allow moments of reflection. Moment to moment, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking one breath at a time and reminding yourself, ‘I got this!’ and ‘I am ok!’”

And finally, remember that each holiday only lasts a couple of days. By reframing your thinking and reducing the importance of them, you can get through each one… even if you’re forced to wear that ugly Christmas sweater Aunt Edna bought you last year. 

Mood Boosters

Below are some simple mood-enhancing tips for the holiday season or any time you need a little boost.


Slow Breaths

As soon as you open your eyes, slowly inhale through your nose for five seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds. Repeat five times. (If you’re congested, inhaling through your mouth is fine). 

Try to hold your thoughts at bay by focusing your attention on the sensations of the inhale and exhale – the air streaming in, the coolness or warmth, etc.

Morning message

Make your first thought of the day an intentional and encouraging one. 

Consider something like, “I’m going make the most of this day” or “Today is another chance to feel better.” You can choose anything that will help you be hopeful and proactive.

Cold water splash

Splash your face with cold water to stimulate your Vagus nerve which will help to create a sense of calm. Do this at least five times. Learn more about why that’s a good thing HERE).

Be kind to your reflection!

When you see your reflection in the mirror first thing in the morning, if anything unkind comes to mind, nip it in the bud by doing one of the following: 

take a deep breath 

refocus your attention on something else

send yourself a more assuring self-message (i.e. "I am far more than a face or body")

A little yoga (or stretching)

Sun salutations are a series of fairly simple yoga poses that help expand the lungs, limber the spine and strengthen your arm and leg muscles – while also giving your whole body a great stretch. By combining movement and breath, your blood starts pumping and oxygen flows to your brain, which is both energizing and calming. 

Even two sun salutations can make you feel as though you’ve done something good for yourself and help set a positive tone for the day. Check out this video to learn how. And if you're not up for yoga, you can try these simple stretches from the comfort of your bed.


 Infinity Breath 

The most effective (and always accessible) tool to regulate our nervous system and create a more relaxed state is conscious breathing. When combined with physical touch, it can also help us feel grounded in our bodies. 

To do the Infinity breath, imagine you’ll be drawing an infinity symbol on your hand; start with your finger at the middle point of the symbol, and take a slow (3-4 second) breath in as you make the first circle, and a slow exhale as you trace the second circle – so your out-breath will start as soon as your finger reaches the middle point again. 

Create an anchor thought

This one is extremely helpful when you feel yourself becoming despondent. Creating an anchor thought is done by visualizing yourself doing well in the near future. This image can be you in a place or with people you love, doing your favorite activity or simply looking and feeling well. Once you have created that image, stay with it until you feel like you can really believe in it. 

As you start to feel what it’s like to be a happier, healthier future-you, reinforce that feeling by saying, “This is me”, “This is where I’m heading,” or a similar message that resonates for you. Whenever you feel yourself resisting a self-supporting action (exercising, socializing, eating well), you can use this anchor thought as a reminder of why you should do it.     


Get moving

It’s extremely hard to motivate ourselves to exercise when we’re in a compromised mental state, but the positive impact makes it well worth giving ourselves a serious push. Even just 20 jumping jacks, taking a walk, swimming, hiking or yoga will work – anything to get your body moving. Check out this post  to learn more about why exercise is so important for our mental health and some helpful tips on how to work it into your daily routine. 

Sunshine (or at least some fresh air)

Even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘nature-person,’ being amidst trees, watching the ocean, strolling through a park, being in any natural environs can give you a sense of ease like nothing else. It’s essentially a place free of ‘triggers’ (assuming, of course, you're not venturing through snake infested terrain). And there’s a good bit of research supporting nature as a stress reliever, energy and memory booster, as well as anxiety reducer. So try to give yourself the gift of some ‘green-time’ at least once a week. 

And if nature’s not accessible, you can still get the benefits of fresh air, Vitamin D, sunlight and exercise from a 20-minute walk anywhere.   


Give yourself some good news

We often have bad news coming at us from every angle – conflict, disaster, terrorism, scandal and crises of every kind, so inject some positivity whenever possible. Check out these alternative news sources for a dose of good: Good News Network, YES Magazine, The Optimist Daily, Greater Good Magazine and Positive News. And if you’d prefer your news the good old-fashioned way, check out The Happy Newspaper.



Calming activities

Reading a good book or listening to an audiobook can be supremely relaxing, or if you prefer TV, make it something humorous or otherwise uplifting.   

Take a hot bath or shower with essential oils

Lavender, rose, geranium, jasmine, sandalwood are all known for their sleep-promoting, stress-relieving, pain-reducing and mood-regulating benefits. Our sense of smell is directly wired to the brain’s center of memory and emotion, which is why a familiar smell can instantly trigger a flood of emotions.      


Peaceful Sounds

White noise is like a sound-blanket that covers other existing sounds (think whirring fan, wind in the trees, streams, waves); the consistent focused sound of white noise has a calming effect for many people. Pink and brown noise operate on the same premise but at lower frequencies (think thunder or a waterfall). Any of these can help you fall and stay asleep, and you'll find many options when you search “sleep sounds” apps.          


Recall the good

Before sleep, take a few minutes to run through your head and/or write down in a journal anything that felt good during the day — a pleasant conversation, a moment of calm, a smile from a passerby, anything kind you’ve done for yourself or others. Large or small, everything counts. As you recall these positive moments, try to hold your attention on them for a moment until you get a full sense of their benefit.   

Sleeping breath

Doing this exercise before bed can combat nightmares and ensure a good night’s sleep. This is also a great breathing technique for whenever you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or dysregulation during the day. You can do this sitting or lying down.

Breathe slowly into your diaphragm on the count of four.

Hold for a count of seven, keeping your body relaxed.

Exhale for a count of eight.

Repeat a minimum of 10 times, fewer repetitions are significantly less impactful. 

If you feel your jaw getting tight as you do this, you can soften it by stretching out your tongue as far as it can go, then keep your teeth separated when you close your mouth. 

Doing at least a few of these daily can help improve your mood at any time, and making them part of your daily routine will help keep you on an even keel. 

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