Avoiding The Charlie Brown Syndrome: The Holiday Blues

By Arnoldo Mata

It’s the time of year for jingle bells, beautiful decorations, angelic choirs and brightly colored presents under the Christmas trees. Amidst all the joy and well-wishing, some people seem to fall into a less than joyous mood. Instead, some people fall into something commonly called The Holiday Blues.

I suspect we’ve all been there at one point. For some people, the lights don’t seem as bright, the Christmas carols seem a little shrill, the “Merry Christmas”-es we say sound slightly hollow, and our sleep might include dark clouds and not sugar plums.

According to Dr. Paul Gonzalez, a psychology professor at South Texas College, “The holiday blues is more of a seasonal episode for some people that can be triggered by a number of things.” He also said that people may think of it as “The Charlie Brown Syndrome.” This comes from the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” 1965 television special, which focused on how Charlie Brown just could not get into the Christmas spirit.

He stressed that The Holiday Blues is not the same thing as depression. “Depression is a clinical diagnosis that requires an expert. The Holiday Blues is mostly a temporary thing that will pass after the holidays.”

Dr. Gonzalez pointed out that there may be a number of reasons why someone may suffer from The Holiday Blues. “There’s a lot of stress associated with Christmas. The expectations are very high, from the gift-giving to money pressures.”

Additionally, things like trying to find the perfect present to trying to get everything done in time add to the stress for some people, Dr. Gonzalez said. For other people, if they’ve recently moved to a new area, whether for work or school, far from family and friends, there can be an element of loneliness. The same may apply to elderly persons whose children have moved away and friends have passed on.

Dr. Gonzalez suggested a number of ways to deal with The Holiday Blues. First, he suggested that the person share their feelings with someone they trust. That discussion can help someone pinpoint what exactly is bothering them about the season. They should look realistically at all the expectations they may have built up about the season. Sure, everyone wants to have a wonderful Christmas, but that might just be too much perfection to expect.

Dr. Gonzalez also cautions that getting over the Holiday Blues is not an easy thing. The people around the person can be supportive but should not expect them to “just get over it.”

Gonzalez suggest that some people might consider dialing back both the things they do and their expectations. The month of December can be crammed with work, shopping, parties, family get-togethers, and school and community events. “In some cases, people can think about starting new traditions that can help them cope with the holidays,” Gonzalez said. This may include traditions that focus less on the gift-giving and the festivities and more on enjoying the company of your friends and family.

Another area of concern is dealing with difficult relatives during family gatherings. In addition to limiting contact to such relatives, limit alcohol and keep away from difficult subjects, like religions and politics.

Gonzalez said that The Holiday Blues will pass for most people once the holidays are over. However, if the feelings persist more than a couple of weeks after the season, it may be something deeper, and that means it’s time to see a professional counselor.

While we may feel like Charlie Brown sometimes, we may want to be more like Snoopy, who took the holiday in stride, even after all this lights have stripped from his dog house. Snoopy still found a way to sing at the end.

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