Holiday Blues: New Statistics & Some Thoughts On How To Cope

Every year it seems the holiday buzz starts earlier and earlier, and while the holidays bring much to be excited about, they also cause considerable stress for many people. For retail workers, the holidays mark a much busier time of year; for those with families the holidays could mean both a significant financial burden as well as hours of planning and work. And for those who are by themselves for the holidays, loneliness and depression pose major risks to general wellbeing. The Better Sleep Council’s latest study provides insights into how isolation and sleep can impact and potentially exacerbate the holiday pressures Americans face each year. 

If you struggle at the start of each holiday season, you are not alone and your sleep is likely suffering—whether seasonal stress is impacting your sleep or your current sleep struggles are contributing to your stress (most likely a combination of both).

The Better Sleep Council (BSC), the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), recently released its latest research findings from The State of America's Sleep study. In order to compile the data included in this report, the BSC gathered 2,000 surveys between April 10-18, 2019, which were distributed among a representative sample of U.S. adults (age 18+), using a questionnaire lasting approximately 15 minutes.

Focusing on the relationship between sleep quality and loneliness, the study found that the worst sleepers have difficult interpersonal relationships, have financial woes and/or are frequent social media users. Many of these personal challenges are often brought to a head over the holidays when a lack of plans or holiday invitations is highlighted, or there are more family gatherings that reveal tense relationships. The financial implications and increased social media usage around the holidays can also create feelings of inadequacy and exclusion.

Interpersonal Relationship Challenges

Starting with Thanksgiving, family gatherings or a lack thereof can be difficult. Whether you have family struggling with illness, addiction or more general interpersonal issues, all that extra time together can be a challenge. And, if you’re missing someone over the holidays this can be even harder. All of these feelings (and really all of the potential holiday stress triggers) can cause physical and emotional stress responses, many of which look a lot like depression. You might find yourself having more headaches, drinking excessively, over-eating or struggling to sleep.

Possible Coping Mechanism(s): There are two issues at play when it comes to interpersonal relationship struggles over the holidays.

  1. Maybe you don’t have many friends or a large family—and the holidays remind you of this. If that’s the case, try not to isolate yourself over the holidays. Say yes to work parties and holiday gatherings even with people you don’t know super well like neighbors. Attend public events (it’s ok to go by yourself), you never know when you might find a kindred spirit or just have a fun time. Try to avoid spending too much time home alone and limit your social media usage if this triggers you.
  2. You don’t get along with your family or all that time together just seems to really burn you out. If this one is more you, be sure to pace yourself. It’s ok to set boundaries (politely). You don’t have to stay to the bitter end of every family gathering either, making an appearance is enough. And, when you do attend events and have to rub elbows with a family member that gets under your skin, try to stay positive and level headed and enjoy the time with the people you do enjoy.

For both of these issues, it’s important not to compare yourself to others. Every family is different and not everyone is having as much fun over the holidays as they may say or express via social media. It’s ok if your life situation and circumstances look different from those of others.

Financial Burdens

Whether you have a large family or small family, many friends or just a few close ones, financially preparing for entertaining, holiday travel and holiday gift giving is a major stressor, one that is sure to keep many people up at night. Last year, The National Retail Federation found that consumers spent $1,007 on average for items such as gifts, decorations and candy, as well as other purchases for their family and themselves and this figure doesn’t even include spending for holiday travel. That’s a lot of money all at once.

Possible Coping Mechanism(s):

  1. Offset both the financial burden of the holidays AND the resulting stress by getting creative or taking a different approach with gifts. Certainly you don’t have to snub family and friends by not sharing gifts or cards, but maybe consider drawing names over the holidays so that instead having to buy a gift for everyone, each person is assigned to one other person for which they can buy one meaningful gift.
  2. Another option is to go DIY—decide on a craft you’d like to make for everyone. You can also try gifting a meal or a baked good. Your gift doesn’t have to be material things. Preparing and sharing a special meal with loved ones that’s a little more decadent than normal is a generous gift and something they’ll remember. And, regardless of how you approach gift expenditures, remember that no matter what anyone else can afford, it’s the thought that counts and you have to stay within your own means—even when being generous with the ones you love.

Social Media, Isolation And Loneliness

Feeling isolated (and potentially lonely) is more common than one might think, especially around the holidays. The BSC survey found that women are more likely to be isolated (55%), compared to over half of men who are not isolated (53%). And, when looking at the different generations, people between the ages of 18 and 34 were the most isolated group and were more likely to sleep poorly, compared to older counterparts. Additionally, adults who agree (completely or somewhat) that they wish they had more friends represent almost half of poor sleepers (46%).

While it’s hard to see what comes first, the chicken or the egg—loneliness or sleeplessness—both plague many people and it gets worse over the holidays. Demographics with a heightened risk of loneliness over the holidays include the elderly, empty nesters and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Interestingly, the BSC research found that these older generations and retired individuals are less socially isolated in America. Contrary to popular belief, those who are not isolated are more likely to be aged 55+ (39%), compared to those who are isolated (26%). Additionally, those who are not isolated are more likely to be retired (26%), compared to those who are isolated (15%).

Social media feeds into the problem of isolation. And, for those who are isolated from family or friends or who feeling lonely over the holidays, social media use throughout the day and before bed is more prevalent. The research found that those who are isolated are more likely to check social media before bed (39%), compared to those not isolated (27%).

Possible Coping Mechanism(s):

  1. Try to limit social media usage and avoid comparing yourself to others (both easier said than done). And, try to stay active and engaged in regular routines over the holidays—go to the gym, keep participating in your trivia group even if the group is smaller over the holidays, read, watch non-holiday themed television and try to wind down and go to bed at a normal time.
  2. Another way to find meaning and community during the holidays is to give back. Spend some time volunteering at your local homeless shelter, animal shelter or soup kitchen.

Some other aspects of celebrating that can contribute to sleeplessness or just generally poorer health over the holidays include extra alcohol consumption, heavy and indulgent foods and changes in schedule due to time off work and traveling. No matter what aspect of the holidays may cause you stress, remember it’s ok and totally normal to feel this way. Rather than trying to push away these feelings, acknowledge them—and make a point to take time for yourself this holiday season. Focus on getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, sticking to some semblance of a regular schedule and having some fun.

Read more here, here, here and here.  

Feeling like you might need more help than some extra self-care over the holidays? Check out the following mental health, addiction and grief counseling resources below:


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