November – Start of The Holiday Season and Emotional Highs and Lows
November begins approximately 2 months of holiday festivities, traditions, and get togethers that we oftentimes look forward to all year long. During this time, we may be able to spend time with family members or friends we seldomly see in person. Each year, we typically have high hopes for Thanksgiving. Even when we’re traveling a short distance, planning involves lots of time, effort, and enthusiasm, especially if using an airline, and with it, we have high expectations for our family trip. However, if reality falls short of these expectations, we feel disappointed. It’s not surprising we react this way when we want to recreate memories of “great” Thanksgivings past or dream this year it would be “better,” or even “perfect.” With the COVID-19 virus, it hijacked many people’s Christmas plans last year and hopefully it will not be to the same extent this one.
The Broken Promise Effect
In 1987, Baier first discussed the “Broken Promise Effect.” It’s a phenomenon that occurs when our holidays fail to meet our expectations. These expectations oftentimes set us up for a letdown: the “holiday blues.” Due to these “blues,” we can experience a negative mood for many days. Depending upon the level of disappointment, negative emotions may range from mild to severe. Negative emotions can be exacerbated if we have other negative events occur close to it date-wise and/or multiple negative experiences take place at the same as the letdown. Despite our best efforts, most of have experienced the broken promise effect.
What are Signs of the Broken Promise Effect or the “Holiday Blues”?
It’s important to be aware of where feelings of disappointment may come from. Common sources of letdown include children’s unrealistic expectations about the holiday or their circumstances, wanting things to be “perfect,” unresolved grief/loss/bereavement, unresolved family issues, and the contrast between images and media of idealized Thanksgiving vs. reality, emotional triggers, and saying goodbye to friends and relatives they may not see again soon. Please keep in mind that people may be affected by one or more at the same time. The more sources of letdown, the more likely emotions can run deeper. Here are signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for during and/or after Thanksgiving:
- Fatigue/Insomnia/Excessive drowsiness
- Mood swings
- Thoughts of harming themselves
- Avoiding social interaction with peers and family
- Being angry/irritable
- Overindulging in food, sugary food/snacks, alcohol, drugs (Rx and non-prescription)
- Becoming physically sick
- Everyone else seems bursting with holiday spirit; your child’s feeling horrible and exhausted.
Ups and Downs with the Thanksgiving Holiday
Every holiday can bring emotional high and lows, but with Thanksgiving starting off the season, expectations may be at their highest. Thanksgiving can amplify a person’s emotional state. However, the holiday can bring about positive effects as well. Research studies suggest that people’s moods are more likely to be more positive prior to a holiday because of anticipating a pleasant experience. A positive mood leads to optimism in decision making and judgments. Studies show that contrary to the widely held belief that suicide rates increase before major holidays, they actually decrease. People who have suicidal ideation may choose not to act on thoughts due to optimistic thinking or a genuine disappearance of them for some time. Unfortunately, this “suicide immunity effect” tends to weaken after Thanksgiving.
How Can My Child Cope? How do I Take Care of my Child’s Emotional Wellbeing?
Thanksgiving can be an emotionally stressful time, even for a child, teen, or young adult. We can benefit from having hope along with the holiday, but also keep realistic expectations that the broken promise effect may occur when hopes and expectations of our children are too high. Stress isn’t caused by events, rather the way we perceive them and react. How we look at things will have a significant impact on the stress we experience. Here are some coping skills that can help a child, teen, or young adult:
- Exercise – Help your child get out and get moving! Establishing regular exercise can help keep the calorie count in check and elevate mood. Vitamin D is produced when exposed to the sun and helps with mood if outside for 15-20 minutes.
- Realistic Holiday Expectations – Help your child regulate keeping hopes realistic, there may be good and bad things that happen.
- Support System – Be sure your child has a strong support network for the positive and negative events.
- Normalize Saying Goodbyes Can Be Sad – Children may not fully understand goodbyes or may have a lot of sadness when they happen with relatives or friends they rarely see. It’s the boundary between being together and apart and can be seen as change or loss even though goodbyes are anticipated. Help them prepare for this part of the holiday. I stopped using goodbye in my twenties because it felt like an ending and full of sadness and started using “aloha,” with all its amazing meanings.
- Start Family Traditions – Help create new traditions that having more meaning for your child and family; let go of old ones they might not enjoy.
- Regular Routine and Structure – Keeping them regular can ensure predictability and reduce stress.
- Don’t Overschedule Holiday Activities – Being extra social can be especially draining and feel overwhelming, causing stress or desire to avoid activities.
- Practice Gratitude – Teach and model practicing gratitude. Research suggests doing it often helps us focus on the good things in our live and can elevate mood.
- Permission to Feel Less Than Perfect – It allows family members to not the holiday or feelings need to be a certain way. Be real, and model having fun even when things don’t go well.
- Communication – Use validating language and teach and model appropriate communication skills for your child. Children want to be heard and have a safe space to tell you what’s going on without fear of getting in trouble.
I hope that found this information helpful. Don’t miss our next blog on Sadness and Depression in Children 12 and Under: Facts, Causes, Contributing Factors, and Symptoms.
For more information on Small Town Counseling services for children and teens, what to expect, and/or scheduling an appointment check out our Child and Teen Counseling Services or call 209-968-1707. FAQs and resources for depression are available in our Good Reads! For additional parenting resources visit Parenting Resources.
My Child, Teen, or Young Adult is Having Symptoms of Depression. Thanksgiving Letdown: Post-Parting Depression and Their Emotional Well-Being is written by David Cayton, M.A, M.S.. David has experience as a mental health professional working with children, teens, and professionals, an academic advisor, education-based research assistant, and student affairs at colleges and universities. At the time of this publishing, David Cayton is Trainer and Research Associate at Small Town Counseling® a group mental health practice located in California that helps individuals, groups, and organizations in promoting mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training.
Baier, M. (1987). The “Holiday Blues” as a stress reaction. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care (24)2, pp. 64-68. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1744-6163.1987.tb00283.x
Beavis, W. (2021). Holidays and the Broken Promise Effect: What Every Leader Should Know. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://christianstandard.com/2021/11/holidays-and-the-broken-promise-effect-what-every-leader-should-know/
Beliefnet. (n.d.). Five Ways to Beat the After-Holiday Letdown. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, from https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/galleries/five-ways-to-ease-an-after-holiday-letdown.aspx.
Fields, R. (2007). Leftover Blues – Five Ways to Beat the Post-Thanksgiving Letdown. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, https://ezinearticles.com/?Leftover-Blues—Five-Ways-to-Beat-the-Post-Thanksgiving-Letdown&id=853081
Haynes, S. (2012). Post-Thanksgiving Letdown. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, from https://salienceineachday.blogspot.com/2012/11/post-thanksgiving-letdown.html
James, V. (n.d.). Post-Parting Depression: Saying Goodbye to My Adult Kids. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, from https://gypsynester.com/post-parting-depression/
Wikipedia. (2021). Aloha. Retrieved on November 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloha
Wilson, S. (2018). Everything You Need to Know About Beating the Holiday Blues and Post-Holiday Let Down. Retrieved on November 22, 2021, from https://www.dpcedcenter.org/news-events/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-beating-the-holiday-blues-and-post-holiday-let-down/