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Holiday Blues Are Real, But You Can Beat Them

Holiday Blues Are Real, But You Can Beat Them
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For many, Christmas is a season filled with parties and reunions with families and friends, including those who have been away for a long time.

But despite the jolly atmosphere that the season brings, there are some people who experience the so-called “holiday blues” during this time of the year.  They feel sadness, loneliness and anxiety hearing Christmas songs being played and seeing holiday decorations up.

According to Frances Prescilla Cuevas, chief health program officer of the Department of Health (DOH)’s National Mental Health Program, the holidays can “bring out mixed emotions — from joy to sadness.”

“For those who struggle with mental health problems, the holidays often worsen stress, anxiety and depression,” she noted during a media forum on Dec. 5.

But for those who do not have mental issues, holiday blues can be merely temporary.

While the “temporary feeling of anxiety and depression” is different from “clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression,” Cuevas said it should still be taken seriously “as it may lead to long-term mental health condition.”

She cautioned that it may even lead to suicide among those who are already depressed. There are “anecdotal reports” of more suicide cases in the country during Christmas, Cuevas said.

What triggers holiday blues?

There are various reasons for a vulnerable person to experience holiday blues. The financial burden of gift giving or traveling to visit relatives can be one factor.

Being alone or the lack of a close group of family or friends may also trigger holiday blues. So can stress caused by monstrous traffic jams.

Cuevas cited the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have to deal with being away from their families.

“We generally have closely knit families. We always look forward to Christmas as a time to see our loved ones, so being away during this season does not sit well with many OFWs,” she said.

It can be hardest for those who are in cold countries where holiday blues is also known as “winter blues.” The weather intensifies the feeling of being away from their families because “it is gloomy and cold and no one is beside them,” Cuevas noted.

Aside from OFWs, holiday blues can also be felt by those who live alone.  

“You feel you are alone because you live by yourself — alone in the sense that you don’t have your family with you,” she said.

Cuevas admitted she could relate to those who feel alone during Yuletide season although she gave assurance that she does not get the holiday blues.

“I am Ilongga and I live alone here. When my parents were still alive, I would always go home during Christmas. But after they passed away, I feel like I have no one to come home to. My sisters are very accommodating and very loving… but they already have their own families,” she said. 

Mental wellness

Cuevas underscored the important role played by family and friends to ensure the “mental wellness” of their loved ones this holiday season.

“Families and friends should support each other. They should not be the cause of why others look at themselves in a lowly way. They should not expect too much from others this holiday,” she stressed.

But in many cases, she said people experience holiday depression because they put so much pressure on themselves.

“Be gentle with yourself… you have to be realistic about what you can and cannot do and do not burden yourself with a lot of expectations,” she stressed.

She also advised against making New Year’s resolutions because it “puts unnecessary pressure on you.”  Instead, she recommended undertaking “yearend reflection” by starting a “gratitude list” of 365 things or events to be thankful for in the year about to pass.

“As the year comes to a close, many of us reflect on what has changed or what has remained the same,” Cuevas said. “Give yourself credit. When we always look at what we don’t have, we forget to be grateful for what we have.”

She also encouraged those who are alone this Christmas to volunteer to join “a group of people doing good for other people.”

“Doing that helps keep your attention away from yourself,” she said. 

Taking their own lives

Cuevas said there are anecdotal reports that suicide cases are higher during the Christmas season, but the country does not have a suicide registry. Deaths from suicide are not reported as such because of the stigma associated with taking one’s life.

But based on the World Mental Health Atlas in 2017, the suicide rate in the country is 3.2 per 100,000 population. The data is based on extrapolated figures coming from concerned Philippine agencies.

The DOH had commissioned the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital to draw up a registry for two years or from 2018 to 2019 on various mental conditions such as bipolar, depressive disorders, dementia and suicide.

The results of the study are expected to be out next year.

Cuevas explained that through the study, the country will be able to get a more accurate assessment of the problem, enabling the government to come up with better programs on mental health.

In 2018, data from the World Health Organization showed the Philippines has a suicide rate of 2.5 per 100,000 male population and 1.7 per 100,000 female population.

For those who need assistance on mental health concerns, you may contact the DOH suicide hotline 0917 899 8727 (USAP) and 989- 8727 (USAP).