Singing the Blues: Depression and the Holidays

Singing the Blues: Depression and the Holidays November 17, 2022

Everyone knows Elvis’ song “Blue Christmas. Blue holidays are inevitable when someone you love is missing. Here are some holiday survival tips.

Sad dog looking at a Christmas tree
Image by patrycja1670 from Pixabay


Elvis’s song is still popular sixty-five years after its release because so many people can identify. Many people miss absent family members during the holidays. Military service, incarceration, business trips, prodigal children, or romantic breakups could all be to blame for your Blue Christmas without the one you love. As much as I adore the holiday season, I can identify with Elvis on some level every year.


My Worst Holiday

I think the worst holiday I had was Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. With the blessing of my family in Virginia, I moved to Washington State in December of 2018, to be as close as possible to my fiancé in British Columbia. We got married on December 21, 2019. As soon as we were married, we started work on my immigration papers. Our first meeting was with the lawyer, on Valentine’s Day of 2020. Then COVID hit, and immigration slowed to a snail’s pace. We finalized the paperwork with the lawyer on July 31, 2020. Exactly one year later, on July 31, 2021, I finally crossed the border as a permanent resident of Canada.

Despite COVID border restrictions, I was able to visit Canada because we were married and because my permanent residency was being processed. But because I had to quarantine for two weeks each time I entered Canada, and for one week when I returned to the States, we couldn’t do it very often. So, Thanksgiving 2020 was a difficult holiday. I remember sitting alone in the RV that I lived in, with the border separating me from my wife, and 3,000 miles away from my family in Virginia. Instead of a turkey, I had a rotisserie chicken and canned vegetables. Even the store-bought pie couldn’t keep me from having a blue Thanksgiving.


Your Blue Holiday

Your blue holiday may be due to the absence of a loved one for different reasons. Maybe your grown kids moved far away. Perhaps you’re going through a separation or divorce. It could be that this is the first holiday season since a loved one passed away. You might just be the kind of person who always feels lonely in a crowd. Feeling isolated during the holidays isn’t the sole domain of people who are alone. With all the chatter at the dinner table, you might feel like you’re by yourself.

If you can identify with any of these things, ironically it means you are not alone. You’re in good company. The reason why Elvis’s song continues to croon on our radios is that so many of us can understand that feeling of isolation. Here are some suggestions that might help: 


Ideas For Your Holiday

  • Talk about these feelings with a friend, partner, pastor, or counselor. You may think you have to go through it alone, but it’s likely there is someone in your life you can talk to about this. Maybe somebody you know is struggling with similar issues, and you can support one another.
  • Join an online support group. Social media sites host special interest groups for every kind of loneliness. Whether you are the parent of a deceased child, a refugee from another country, or grieving the loss of coworkers due to forced retirement, there is a group for you.
  • Video chatting works wonders when the people you love are far away. Whether it’s Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or any other video platform, video chat can bring them closer. The only thing you can’t do is touch. Video chatting can be a terrific help if you are having a blue holiday.
  • Play online games with distant loved ones. Plenty of games can be played online, instead of face-to-face. This helps you stay engaged, and helps you laugh and enjoy people rather than focusing on how difficult is without them.
  • Get involved in something bigger than yourself. Join a choir. This is a great time of year to volunteer for your favorite holiday-related charity. You could serve Thanksgiving dinner at a soup kitchen or collect Toys for Tots. Organize a local coat drive. When you focus on others, it gives you less time to feel lonely.
  • Try journaling about your feelings. Everyone is different. Some people need distractions from their emotions, while others need to embrace them. Take the time you need to process what you’re feeling. Let the tears fall on the pages of your diary. Processing your feelings through writing can be cathartic.

Depression and the Holidays

It’s one thing to have a Blue Christmas. It’s another thing entirely to feel like your world is caving in. You know it’s depression when you can’t get yourself out of bed to journal or go Christmas caroling. When the social interaction of a Skype call with your family feels overwhelming, it could be clinical depression. Well-meaning people tell you to snap out of it, suck it up, or just deal with it. They don’t understand that the Abominable Snowman has such a grip on you that it’s all you can do to breathe.

If this is the case for you, it’s time to make an appointment with the doctor. Antidepressants or medications for a seasonal affective disorder may be exactly what you need. There’s no shame in this, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. There’s no stigma for people using heart medication, so there shouldn’t be any shame for those medicating for depression.


People Who Self-Medicate

Unfortunately, a lot of people turn to self-medication this time of year. The loneliness, pressures, and depression of the holidays lead many to substance misuse. If you find yourself picking up the bottle more than you should, taking medication that wasn’t prescribed to you, or taking it differently than prescribed, you might need to admit that you have a problem. If a little hit of weed has turned to regular use of street drugs, it’s time to reach out for help. For resources on addiction recovery, you can talk with your medical provider, or your health department, or call a hotline for alcohol and drug addiction.


When Depression Turns to Suicidal Ideation

What starts as a blue holiday can turn into depression or dysthymia. Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness ravage you like a beast. Left unchecked, these thoughts can progress into suicidal ideation. At some point in their lives, most people have a fleeting idea of suicide. But if those thoughts come frequently, and if you start to develop a plan, you are in the danger zone. It’s time to reach out to a medical or mental health provider. Click here for hotline and text resources in the US. Click here for resources in Canada. (I list those countries because that’s where I live and work. You can Google resources for your location.)


A Blue Christmas Without YOU

Depression and the holidays seem to go hand in hand. When you look around and see everyone else celebrating, it can make you feel isolated and alone. If you can’t find love, peace, hope, and joy during this season, it can lead to despair. The good news is that you can do some simple things to cut these feelings off at the pass.

If you are in the early stages, try the suggestions I made in the first section. Reach out to your medical or mental health provider for help if it has moved on to clinical depression. If substance use has become a problem, take advantage of the resources in your area. Please seek help if your thoughts of suicide have moved from passing ideas to persistent plans. Because the world is a better place with you in it. And you don’t want someone you love to have a Blue Christmas without you.

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