It’s a Wonderful Life

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I began feeling the stress of the season. This year, we decided to go to Orlando to spend it with my niece, who was away at college and working. First, however, my wife decided that we should do something nice for my son, so we stopped at Legoland before making our way there. The total drive took about four to five hours in total, with one inpatient kid nagging “are we there yet?” and another frustrated wife, urging the kid to shut up. Once we got to Legoland, there was a rush to get on all the rides before dinner, which was planned at 4:30. Fortunately for us, the lines weren’t too bad, only a twenty minute wait per ride. By the time we got back on the road, I was exhausted, but fortunately, my son fell asleep for the remainder of the trip and I regained a little bit of sanity. On the way to my niece’s, my wife decided to call her mother, but her father answered instead, sounding irritated. “Where are you guys?” he asked. “We’re starving.” We finally arrived and sat to eat with our hungry relatives, giving us the stink eye. After dinner, all I wanted to do was pass out, but instead, we went Black Friday shopping, because Black Friday now falls on Thanksgiving Thursday. More lines. More crowds. By the time we got back, it was close to midnight. When I finally sat back in bed, I began to wonder what was there to be thankful about? I checked my news feed before finally knocking out, only to discover that someone was killed in a train accident this evening. Pedestrian versus train. Appeared to be suicide.

Typically, the holidays are considered a time of joy and merriment, but they can also be a source of stress and anxiety. The same can be said about family. The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, where the stress of the season can actually cause people severe anxiety or depression or a combination of both. The holidays set up unrealistic expectations of being happy all the time. When a person doesn’t meet those expectations, disappointment can set in. Symptoms of the holiday blues can include lack of energy or fatigue, insomnia, excessive drinking, difficulty concentrating, or loss of interest in what typically brings joy.


The depressive symptoms that people experience during the holidays can be related to subjective feelings of loneliness. Even in a city full of people, the world can seem to be a very empty place, particularly during the holidays. For some, the holidays can be a reminder for loved ones lost, like a spouse or sibling, creating a void. There is also a phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder, where the lack of light, particularly during the fall and winter months, can induce a depressed mood.

To avoid the blues, people need to avoid setting up expectations of what the holidays are about. Having no expectations of something will essentially eliminate any type of disappointment that a person can have. Sticking with a regular routine, exercising, and eating healthy can help. Reaching out to trusted friends and family can curb the loneliness that a person can feel during the season. If none are available, support groups can be an invaluable resource during these times.  Volunteering at a soup kitchen and being charitable can also help. Light and aroma therapy can also be of benefit. And of course, speaking to a physician when all else fails.

When we got back home after another four hour drive, we started putting the tree together and decorating the house for Christmas. I had to drag the tree out of the attic and set it up in the living room. My wife and son started putting up the ornaments once the tree was up. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was playing in the background. For those that have never watched the movie, it is perhaps the most depressing movie ever created during the first hour. If you stick around for the second half, it gets better and everything works out in the end. For all the frustrations and anxiety that the holidays bring about, at the end of the day, for me, it was all worth it. Indeed, it is a wonderful life.

By: Dr. Juan Borja
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