Beating the holiday blues

How to keep your spirits up this holiday season.
Published November 29, 2018

Though known for being a time of cheer, the holiday season can be a particularly difficult time for many of us.

Whether we’re dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a loss, painful holiday memories, not being able to visit family, or simply feeling lonely, sometimes it’s just hard to keep our spirits up this time of year. So, we asked around for some advice to beat the holiday blues.

“The winter blues are pretty common,” says Samant Virk, a neurologist and founder of MediSprout, a telemedicine company based in New York.

“The decreasing amounts of sunlight we are exposed to during the winter months can cause changes in our mood and sleep patterns. Oftentimes, people experience a dip in serotonin, which helps to stabilize our mood, and changes in our body’s internal clock, which can cause bumps in our sleep-wake cycles. Many people also see changes in their levels of melatonin, a hormone that affects your mood and sleep,” he explains.


Unless you have SAD, however, Virk says feeling blue in winter shouldn’t adversely affect your ability to get out and enjoy life – you just have to work around it.


Among his recommendations, Virk suggests exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible.

“[Open] the shades as soon as you wake up, sit close to windows at work if possible, and consider adding more lamps around you during the day,” he says.


Missouri-based therapist and counsellor Julie Williamson says it’s important for anyone who is feeling blue this holiday season to know they are not alone.


“The holidays [are] a difficult time of year for many folks, for a variety of reasons: grief, loneliness, less daylight, etc.,” she says.


“See if there are groups in your area that offer support and camaraderie. Counselling agencies and churches are good places to start. Online groups can also be helpful, although connecting with people face-to-face is ideal.”


Next, she says, be grateful. “Practising gratitude has been shown to help boost positive feelings, even in the midst of difficulty. Making a gratitude list can be helpful or paying attention to your five senses and what they are experiencing – [doing this] can point us back to the amazing things our body can do.”


Williamson also advises being intentional about our self-care – despite this hectic season.


“While it may be harder to eat healthier with all of the treats around, maintaining a healthy diet as best you can … as well as keeping up with your exercise routine, can help combat feelings of sluggishness,” she says. “Remember to give yourself some grace if you find yourself eating more cookies or exercising less than you usually do. Healthy eating and exercise help your body feel good and maintain energy levels. If you’re off schedule or routine, doing the best you can will still be effective.”


Coach, author and speaker Corrie LoGiudice emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right for you if you’re feeling really down this holiday season.


“If the thought of sending out holiday cards or decorating makes you want to scream, don’t do it! You can always regroup next year.”


There’s also nothing saying you can’t make your own traditions.

“If old traditions are triggering, create new ones that bring you new memories,” says LoGiudice. “New traditions can be made out of everything from travel to a fun activity, like seeing a movie. The key is changing the scene and routine.”

And remember to be gentle on yourself, advises LoGiudice, who says she is using these tips herself, as this year is her first holiday season grieving the loss of her partner.

“It's okay if you don't feel festive. You [owe] it to nobody to act the same as everyone else,” she says. “It also doesn’t mean you’ll never find joy in the season again. Don't allow yourself to feel bad or let others judge you.”


5 quick tips to beat the blues


  1. Listen to music throughout the day – your favourite tunes can lift your spirits, Virk says.
  2. Surround yourself with happy people, Virk suggests.
  3. Be present – Williamson says you can practise this by pressing your feet flat into the floor and noticing them making contact with the ground while letting your thoughts flow freely.
  4. Volunteer – “When you give to others, you receive back tenfold,” LoGiudice says.
  5. Get outside – spending time in nature does wonders for your mood, says LoGiudice.