The Grinch is an intriguing character, always appearing to have a broken heart and dispiritedness, even during the holiday season, which according to many songs, is the most wonderful time of the year. With all of the happy songs describing how we should be merry and bright, the holiday season can still bring about melancholy for some.

While shopping in the department store on Christmas Eve 2014, the speakers were blaring Silent Night by the Temptations. I began to cry uncontrollably. I found a corner in the back of the store and turned my back to the sales floor while I allowed the tears to create a river down my face. Christmas is one of the happiest holidays of the year because of the many Christmas Eves and Christmas days that my mother single handedly transformed into magical days. For nearly two decades, I watched her begin planning for our Christmas feast, following the Thanksgiving holiday. I marveled at how she would purchase and acquire presents several weeks preceding December. She would hide the gifts in her bedroom closet and wrap them the night before. My mom passed away in 2005. I have never gotten over the pain of missing my mother and her holiday ‘swag’. I cry every year during the November and December holidays.

The holiday blues wraps his arms around me every fall. He shows me mental images and photographs of my dearest mother smiling and enjoying herself as she dices onions and peppers for her cornbread stuffing, mixes flour mix for homemade pie crusts, prepares cookies, pies and cakes, all prepared a few days before Christmas Day. He sings in my ear as he reminds me about all of the holiday carols sang by the Motown artists, like Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Smokey Robinson. My mother would begin listening to carols the week of Thanksgiving, as she prepared Thanksgiving dinner.

The holiday blues should not be confused with more serious illnesses such as Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder or types of anxiety illnesses. These illnesses have specific criteria that include the symptoms or signs experienced which also cause social or occupational dysfunction, such as missing days from work, not interacting with family members or friends or a change in habits such as indulging in cigarettes or alcohol more than usual. The cause of my holiday blues is the untimely death of my mother.

Other causes of holiday blues or stress could be due to the inability to meet certain obligations such as buying gifts for children, family and or loved ones. It can be caused by a relationship break-up, being isolated from loved ones during the holiday, for example, college students who cannot make it home for Thanksgiving, soldiers deployed overseas who have to spend their holidays without their spouses and children. Moving to a new location for the sake of starting a new job can result in holiday isolation due to the inability to take a vacation or afford a trip back home during the holiday season. The cold weather and the decreased amount of sunlight can worsen one’s mood. Holiday stress or the ‘blues’ can be produced by having unrealistic expectations, overextending one’s self, and too many financial obligations. Somber moods or crying may occur but so can headaches, sleep difficulties, low energy and overeating.

My ‘blues’ are remedied by staying involved in holiday preparations for my family and friends. I maintain contact with my social network and plan for most of the same traditions I watched my mother create. Maintaining a social network does not require socializing with a large group of people. For some, being with an intimate, small group is more helpful in attenuating the sadness. I try to make the memories of my mother and the holidays a happy one, but also do not fear my own tears. Reframing our holiday story to create a more positive picture is an effective intervention to managing our blues. Exercise is always a great way to naturally release endorphins, our feel-good chemicals made in the brain. Maintaining a regular exercise schedule PRIOR to the holidays will ease the transition into this difficult time period. If possible, sexual activity can be quite useful as it too can increase our ability to produce endorphins. Intimacy is vital because it makes us feel wanted, needed and not alone. The most helpful intervention is staying busy and not allowing one’s self to be idol or feel alone.

Do not allow the upcoming holiday season to subjugate you. Focus on the true meaning of the holiday based on your own religious beliefs and maintain your family traditions. Although man has created a holiday that promotes overspending and superficial ideas, we can be true to ourselves and embrace the holiday for its legitimate meaning to life, which is the birth of Christ. Christ is the indubitable, unwavering meaning of love, loyalty, selflessness and hope.

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Delvena Thomas

About Delvena Thomas

Dr. Delvena R. Thomas was trained in medicine and psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Systems in Baltimore (MD). She is a board-certified psychiatrist who maintains a private practice in psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and forensic psychiatry. She serves as a voluntary Clinical Assistant Professor at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, as well as a consulting psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic–Florida.

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