Four simple steps to beating the holiday blues

Story highlights

  • With an emphasis on family and celebration, some people can feel down
  • Hiding out doesn't help; force yourself to mix and mingle with a small group of friends
  • Avoid Facebook, hit the gym, volunteer and remember you are in charge of you

Samantha Gattsek's family has never made a big deal out of holiday celebrations. But this year, she feels especially disconnected from the seasonal cheer surrounding her.

"The holidays can feel like a lonely time of year, and it's hard to hear about everyone else's fun plans," the 29-year-old Manhattanite says. "I don't have that warm and fuzzy feeling."
    Gattsek can't afford the $700 plane ticket to visit her boyfriend in Atlanta. Plus, she has to work on Christmas Eve. With nothing much to look forward to, she's suffered from low energy since Thanksgiving and has a bad case of the holiday blues.

      Why it's easy to hate the holidays

      The holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of the year, yet for many, they trigger deep feelings of sadness and anxiety.
        "There's so much emphasis on family and celebration, but it's hard if you're dealing with difficult memories or reminders that you're not close to your family," says Sharon Melnick, author of "Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident and Productive When the Pressure's On."
        "It can feel like there's a big gap between what other people are experiencing and what you're experiencing."
        Add the financial pressure of gift-giving, cold weather and lack of sunlight, and those are prime conditions for a world-class funk. But unlike seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is estimated to affect up to 20% of Americans, it's unknown how many people suffer from the holiday blahs.
        "It's important not to classify all winter doldrums as SAD," explains Sarah Eckfeldt, a psychotherapist in New York City. "Many people experience a drop in mood in anticipation of the holidays because they might be sad over a recent breakup or spending the first holiday after the death of a loved one and could benefit from talking to a therapist."
        The good news: Seasonal doldrums tend to fade once the festivities are over (and if they don't, consider seeking professional help). In the meantime, here are some tips to help you improve your mood over the next two weeks:

        1. Seek social support

        Meghan Day was seized with sadness earlier this month after decorating her Christmas tree alone.
        The activity was intended to make her feel better about creating her own holiday traditions; she had separated from her husband a year earlier.
        "It all feels really strange and new. It's hard not to get in a down place about being alone this time of year," she says. Since the start of the holiday season, she's struggled to get out of bed in the morning and hasn't felt like going out after work.
        When the blues strike, who wouldn't want to hide at home in yoga pants? Make yourself go out anyway, Eckfeldt advises.
        "Hibernation and isolation can feed a depressed mood," she says. "Surround yourself with friends, even if you don't feel like it. Not only are you distracting yourself from your possibly blue thoughts, but being out with others provides you with opportunities for pleasure and joy."
        Feeling wary about making small talk? You can skip those parties, she says. Instead, make plans with small groups of friends. Just having a few events on her calendar to look forward to has helped Day feel more connected to those around her. "It's been good to share how I'm feeling with someone other than my therapist," she says.
        She's also taken the opportunity to explore new things to do that don't involve pricey dinners or drinks. "Staying out late drinking is exhausting, and not good for m