'Tis the Season for Holiday Blues

'Tis the Season for Holiday Blues

Have you ever felt totally stressed out by the holidays? Or oddly disappointed when they were over? Janna Koch and her guest Kelly Scimeca chat all things holiday blues: the symptoms, the causes, and how to keep them from ruining your cheery vibe.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna Koch (00:36):

Hi, and welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm Janna Koch, your host and BookShark community manager. In today's episode, I am joined by Kelly Scimeca. She is a licensed professional counselor. Not only is she that, but she happens to be a lifelong friend of mine of almost 35 years. We're going to be discussing holiday blues, how that affects you as homeschool parents, maybe some tips in identifying if you are suffering from that, and then some ideas on how to combat that. Kelly, thank you so much for being here.

Kelly Scimeca (01:07):

Thank you for having me.

Janna Koch (01:09):

So a little background information for our listeners. We have been friends for almost 35 years.

Kelly Scimeca (01:18):

We met at birth. We met at birth.

Janna Koch (01:20):

Right, right. Because I have 17-year-olds and I'm only 35. Okay. We did, however, start our own podcasting before we even knew what it was in your parents' basement. We were recording those radio shows when we were what, nine and 10?

Kelly Scimeca (01:39):

Yeah. We were trendsetters for sure.

Janna Koch (01:41):

We were. And look at us now.

Kelly Scimeca (01:44):

Now doing it for real.

Janna Koch (01:45):

I know. And getting paid for it.

Kelly Scimeca (01:47):

And getting paid for it.

Janna Koch (01:48):

And getting paid. We're living the dream, Kelly.

Kelly Scimeca (01:51):

Yes, we are.

Janna Koch (01:52):

So, Kelly is not actually a homeschool parent, but she did survive pandemic schooling during 2020 and with her profession of mental health counseling, she has great insight and wealth of information to share with us about this topic. Before we get into that, Kelly, why don't you introduce yourself and let our audience know a little bit about you personally.

Kelly Scimeca (02:16):

Okay. My name is Kelly. I have two wonderful children. We live in a suburb of Chicago in Crystal Lake, Illinois. That's where Janna and I grew up together. And I'm currently working for McHenry County. I'm the director of the specialty courts. So we do mental health court, drug court, DUI court. So our job is to, instead of sending people to prison, we try to rehabilitate them and give them a second chance at life.

Janna Koch (02:47):

Kelly, can you share a life hack with our listeners?

Kelly Scimeca (02:52):

Well, I'm a single mom, so working full time and keeping that schedule, keeping the house clean, it is very overwhelming for me. So we recently started chore charts and it has worked really well for us. The kids look forward to it. We have them hanging on the fridge. They each have their own, they each have their own assigned chores. And I feel like that visual for them, they know what the expectation is, which is good for everyone. I know what they're supposed to do, they know what they're supposed to do. There's no frustration. They love checking the box. And then the big reward at the end is they can go to Urban Air with a friend. So it helps me out because they help around the house and it helps them out to earn a nice reward.

Janna Koch (03:42):

That's super exciting. I remember when we were kids, our parents just told us to do it.

Kelly Scimeca (03:47):

Right. Times have changed.

Janna Koch (03:52):

They certainly have. They certainly have. But one thing that hasn't changed is how people feel about the holidays. And I know personally that I have, in the past, and it kind of comes and goes, suffered from this idea of the holiday blues. And I think that is almost an oxymoron in some people's mind because the holidays are exciting and they're fun and they're jam packed with social events and things to do. But what actually is holiday blues?

Kelly Scimeca (04:24):

I would describe holiday blues as maybe a change in your behavior or even how you're feeling closer to the holidays. Like the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are typically when holiday blues show up. That's what I would look for, changes in behavior and how you're feeling.

Janna Koch (04:48):

I have always been an interesting case in all things, but mine actually kind of extend into January because it's almost like I have a let down from all of those expectations that kind of compound those feelings of what I thought it was going to be and then, like life, it just never quite turns out how I think it's going to.

Kelly Scimeca (05:10):

Isn't that interesting. So you kind of have this built up expectation in your mind. The holidays usually don't meet that expectation. So when it's all over with, you feel disappointed. Is that what I'm hearing you say?

Janna Koch (05:25):

I think so. And not disappointed in necessarily my family or how it went, but I think I've always been a dreamer. I have a very imaginative, creative idea of how things go. And then when they don't go that way exactly by the end of it, I struggle with enjoying what did go well and focus on the parts that didn't quite meet my expectations. I can't be the only one.

Kelly Scimeca (05:52):

Yeah, I think it's always easier to focus on the negative because that kind of takes over. That's the part we remember. That's the part that ruined the good time. You know what I mean? So I think that's pretty typical.

Janna Koch (06:06):

So when thinking about holidays as they are approaching, we have this idea that we're excited that maybe family and friends are going to get together, but you might be anxious at the same time that family and friends are getting together.

Kelly Scimeca (06:22):

I mean, I think back to my childhood and loved holidays. Holidays meant time off of school. Getting together with your cousins, grandparents, lots of food, just a really good time. And as an adult, at least in my life, that has changed significantly because we don't have big family parties anymore. My siblings, one doesn't live in state, my parents just moved out of state. I'm divorced. So there isn't that grandiose celebration that I'm used to. So as an adult I'm like, "Oh gosh, I'm sad for my kids that they'll never experience that." Which they've never experienced it, so they don't really know what they're missing. So it's my grief not theirs.


I just think it's just so commercialized and I don't really buy into that. So I hear that, I see it. You're bombarded with it and you like, "Oh my gosh, if I don't spend all this money, they're going to think I don't love them. I'm not going to be the favorite aunt." So we put all these unrealistic expectations on ourselves, and we're the one setting it. We're the one doing it to ourselves. I guarantee you, your family is not saying, "Well if Kelly doesn't spend a hundred dollars on me, I'm not going to talk to her for a week." So we try and be something that we're not, I think during that time of year.

Janna Koch (07:55):

And I think we almost idolize the ideal that we want to be. So for me, I want to make sure that everything is homemade. I want to make sure that I bought the best gift that somehow symbolizes my love, regardless of the price to give to my significant other or my children. And then I'm putting all this pressure and while I'm excited about the idea of making this all happen at the same time, I start to feel overwhelmed and burdened by these choices that I'm making that nobody else even knows about. Because it's all in my head. And again, maybe it's just me, maybe I'm the one, that weirdo, who just looks at the holidays and has two very different feelings about it. Super excited, I'm going to do all these things. And then as reality creeps in, and it's Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and I kid you not a decade now, I have stayed up till midnight making pies because God forbid we get a store bought pie on Thanksgiving.

Kelly Scimeca (09:04):

Yeah, no, I hear what you're saying. Growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. Everything was homemade. She's a fabulous cook. So that was appreciated. And in my mind, I can't keep up with that because I'm a working single mom and it's just not realistic. And I do disappoint myself and feel bad. But again, that's me because I want to meet that expectation in my head and I can't. So I just have to accept that it's not the same. It's not going to be the same. So my Thanksgiving's going to look very different, but that's okay.

Janna Koch (09:44):

And even this year, with everything going on with the economy, all the things that have happened as a result of the pandemic, I had heard that turkeys, there might be a shortage of turkeys. And so I was starting to panic. We cannot have thanksgiving without a turkey. And the reality is you can. You can have thanksgiving without a turkey. I mean, yeah, maybe it's not how you have traditionally done it. So when the grocery store somebody, and I was interviewing somebody in New Jersey two weeks ago and she said, "Oh, I just got my turkey for Thanksgiving."


Panic. I broke out in a sweat. I was like, "I haven't seen any turkeys in Colorado. They must not be making it further west." So the other day I was grocery shopping and I saw some turkeys and I'm texting my husband, I was like, "Should I just get a turkey? We don't want to be without a turkey." I paid about three times the amount that I normally pay for a Turkey because crazy Janna could not let that go, that we would not have a turkey on Thanksgiving. Now I have no idea what Christmas is going to bring, but even as I brought it home and I looked at the price tag, I was like, "Wow, is it really worth?" Some people don't... One of my kids doesn't even like turkey.

Kelly Scimeca (11:03):

But hearing you talk, you bring up a valid point, you were worried about Thanksgiving. That's what's next. I'm not going to have a turkey. Oh my God, I found a turkey for Thanksgiving. What about Christmas? So even though you fulfilled that need, that worry, that didn't even satisfy your anxiety. It was like, "Now what am I going to focus on next of what I'm going to miss out on?"

Janna Koch (11:26):

Yeah. So what you're saying is I have FOMO.

Kelly Scimeca (11:31):

I did learn what that meant from your daughters. Well, I guess you could use it in that context, but...

Janna Koch (11:42):

Yes. Well, for those of you who are just listening for their first time or haven't listened to all my episodes, my 17 year old twins love to call me a boomer, which is so not true. But in their minds I am.

Kelly Scimeca (11:56):

Okay. Yeah, we'll just let that one go.

Janna Koch (12:00):

So maybe for some of our listeners they say, "Okay, I have a realistic expectation. Money is down, the economy is down. I know I have this amount to spend, so I'm not going to stress about that." Which I applaud and I say, "Good for you, you're further along than me." But it may come out in other ways. It may not just be anxiety about expectations, but there are other ways that holiday blues can, the symptoms of that kind of sneak in. And we might be very unaware of it. So what do you think some of those other symptoms are?

Kelly Scimeca (12:38):

I would say look for increased irritability, maybe not being able to sleep like you normally do, fatigue, typical depression symptoms, tired, not really feeling motivated to do things that you normally like to do. Those are just a few off the top of my head that I can think of that you should be aware of during the holidays.

Janna Koch (13:04):

Personally, I tend to stay up really late when it starts getting close to holidays. Again, you guys, insight into my crazy, I have a stack of holiday movies that I feel like I have to get through every year, otherwise it's not the perfect holiday. So I will stay up till midnight, one o'clock in the morning, even on weekdays, putting in one movie after another, which I enjoy. But then when the alarm goes off at 6:00 AM the next day and I still have everything else I'm supposed to do, plus all of the holiday extras, I start to wonder why do I feel so tired? Wait, I know why I'm tired, but I'm unwilling to give up one or the other.


So it's kind of like this, almost like a holiday mania that I get into which wouldn't necessarily, again, qualify maybe in someone's mind about holiday blues, but it really is, it's part of the cycle for me. It's this go, go, go, rush, rush, rush, say everything that has Thanksgiving or Christmas related to it. I have to say yes because I don't want to miss out. I don't want the holidays to pass. And I think to your point, trying to recapture that childhood wonder that my parents created. And maybe that's the unrealistic expectation.

Kelly Scimeca (14:25):

So looking at that, how could you fulfill that need of watching the movies but not overextend yourself? What do you think some of the things you could do off the top of your head,

Janna Koch (14:41):

Maybe just start them earlier in the day. Have them on in the background. Because I know them all by heart. Let's be honest, I'm not missing a scene.

Kelly Scimeca (14:49):

What if you started earlier in the year or extended past the holidays? Would that be that big of a deal? Or you set a boundary of I can only watch two a day? Something so you're still getting that need fulfilled, but you're not wearing yourself out.

Janna Koch (15:08):

So I hear the theme is moderation.

Kelly Scimeca (15:12):

Well, just reasonable expectations. Yes, moderation. Getting what you need, but in a realistic way.

Janna Koch (16:22):

So let's move on to another symptom, which is appetite. So either people, the holidays are so busy that they forget to eat and kudos to them for reaching their weight, their goals at the end of the year. But typically people tend to do more, get more busy, more tired, so then they eat more. And then at the end of the year, we're looking at the new year going, "I'm here again. I did it to myself again." So what are some ways that we can combat that?

Kelly Scimeca (16:52):

I mean, I think you should take a look at your appetites because that can also be a sign of winter blues, overeating, under-eating, just general changes in your normal appetites. Again, everything in moderation, which you're like, "Ugh, that's annoying. Give me some concrete things I can use." Don't restrict yourself. That's only going to make you eat more later. So just, if you want a piece of the pumpkin pie, then maybe not have so much stuffing. So it's again about balance. I think balance is very important.

Janna Koch (17:33):

And none of this is groundbreaking, but I think sometimes as parents, as homeschool parents especially, who are doing the hard thing for themselves, any choice we make as parents and in our career is the hard, we're doing the best that we can. But you had mentioned isolation as one of the points, and I think sometimes homeschool parents are already feeling isolated. They started their school year in August with great expectations and they've gotten to October and it's not turning out exactly how they thought it was going to be because well that is just life. And then I feel like we're hit with the holidays.


So now we have this, "I'm looking at my year, it's not going the way I thought it was going to." And we kind of have a choice. Do we jump in the deep end with the holidays and try to make up for the year? Or do we recognize that we need grace too? Our kids need grace as we are walking through life with them, but we need to recognize this as a different season of life. We are already feeling like we've made choices that are different from other people. And so how does isolation kind of compound all that?


Kelly Scimeca (18:50):

I think that's a good question. Like me, I feel like I'm an introvert at heart. So isolating actually rejuvenates me. I need that time alone. But I recognize that in myself. That's my normal typical behavior. Whereas I feel like Janna is an extrovert. She gets energy from interacting with people and doing social things. That's what fills her cup up. Again, I would just recognize differences in your behavior. Do you normally like to go have lunch with your coworkers and now suddenly you're sitting in your car by yourself? That would be a red flag to look for.


And again, it's about balance and moderation. There's a lot of holiday parties, work parties, friends are having parties, there's just a lot of extra expectations around the holidays. And I would just set boundaries. Those are really important. And it doesn't mean you have to say no to everything, but definitely a yes for what you want to do. And it's hard to do, but learn how to say no if you don't want to do something, you don't have the time, the energy, or you're going to suffer. If you do that, it is okay to say no. Everybody say it now: “No.”

Janna Koch (20:05):


Kelly Scimeca (20:06):

That is a hard skill to learn to say no, that's self care. Very important.

Janna Koch (20:14):

I personally have found that no does not come naturally for me.

Kelly Scimeca (20:19):

For most people it doesn't.

Janna Koch (20:21):

I'm a yes gal, I am your yes gal. So saying maybe gives me the space to pause and think about if I really want to do that, if that's beneficial for me, if it's beneficial for my family. Because being married now for 18 years, in the very beginning of our relationship, I forgot to kind of take into account my family. And so personally for all those years I just said yes because that's what I wanted to do. And I saw suffering in my relationships with my family. So now saying maybe, or let me think about that, gives me pause. It gives me time to talk to my family. Is this something that we want to do before I sign everybody up to volunteer at that holiday festival? Because that's what I want to do. I think that for those who have a hard, really hard time with no, that maybe is a great stepping stone, start with maybe, that gives you space and pause. And I never knew that that was an option.

Kelly Scimeca (21:20):


Janna Koch (21:21):

I also didn't know that no was a complete sentence.

Kelly Scimeca (21:27):

No, exclamation point.

Janna Koch (21:28):

Correct. Thank you. No, period. I always like, okay, if I'm going to say no, I'm going to have to tell them why I'm saying no. If I'm going to say no, I have to justify my answer. And age is a beautiful thing in some ways because now thank you, no.

Kelly Scimeca (21:47):


Janna Koch (21:48):

A smile and a nod.

Kelly Scimeca (21:50):

And just because you learn how to say no, doesn't mean people will receive your no. So one thing that I've done for a long time, I think even before children, maybe not, I limit my activities on the weekends to one thing because I need my downtime and my time to rest and recuperate, do my laundry and just feel good about myself. And if my Saturdays and Sundays are packed, I'm not getting that self care that I need. So pick one thing out of all the things you're invited to and go with it and people will have to understand.

Janna Koch (22:28):

Yeah. And it's a great practice to start this holiday season so that when you make those New Year's resolutions, you can say, "Okay, yes, this actually is doable. I can take the time that I need to take." And sometimes people hear self care and they internalize selfishness and that just isn't true. But what do you say to someone who is like, "If I don't take my child to every holiday event that is available or even that they want to go to, I'm being selfish."

Kelly Scimeca (23:06):

Yeah. I think it goes back to, and this is used a lot in the counseling world, when you're on an airplane and the flight attendant is giving her safety spiel and she tells you, "Put your mask on first." Think about that. If you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of others. So it's really important to take care of yourself so that you can be there and present for all the expectations that you have scheduled. But it is important and it feels awkward because in our culture it is not the norm. I think things are coming around and self care doesn't have to be extreme. It's not a spa day, it's taking a bubble bath with some essential oils. It's taking time out to read your book, getting a pedicure, or taking a walk. It's just removing yourself for that care. You know what I mean?

Janna Koch (24:01):


Kelly Scimeca (24:03):

I think people always take it to the extreme like, "Oh, I have to take the day off and go get a mud bath." It's not that. It's just fitting it in here and there where it's reasonable expectations.

Janna Koch (24:15):

Should we do that? Should we take a day off and go get a mud bath?

Kelly Scimeca (24:18):

For sure.

Janna Koch (24:19):

I think a very helpful tip that I am now saying to myself and to our listeners, get your family's input. Ask your family what they want, what their expectation is. Because going back to my pies, I'll make three to four different pies and my family will eat all of the pies. But when I do stop and go, "You know what guys, I don't have enough time, I'm going to make two. Which two do you want?" They are like, "Oh yeah, just these two." And I'm like, "Okay, I am crazy. Nobody wanted the four different pies." Granted, they eat all the four pies, but it's gaining some input from those around you. "So this thing is coming up, is it something you guys want to do? Should I try to fit it into our schedule?" Nine times out of 10, my family, they have no interest in it. Then I'm dragging them along and I'm packing our weekends and I'm trying to get all this stuff done. And my husband's just like, "Why? You're not even enjoying this."

Kelly Scimeca (25:27):

Right. Yeah. And again, it's setting that crazy expectation in your head. I think communication is key for anything. Holiday blues, relationships, sanity, just communicate because what you're thinking might not be what the other person is thinking. And just get rid of all that confusion.

Janna Koch (25:47):

Yeah. And making assumptions. This is a word that keeps coming up in some of my groups that I'm involved in. Are you making an assumption? Am I making an assumption that if I don't provide a turkey and a ham and four different types of pies that my family is somehow feeling that the holiday experience wasn't what they had wanted? So the way to avoid assumptions is to ask questions. And I, as a parent, wasn't modeled that as a child. I wasn't brought in, I wasn't asked questions. And so it's very contrary to my natural parenting style to ask questions. I have this burden of needing to figure it out and then I need to tell you what to do with it.

Kelly Scimeca (26:31):

Yeah. I think in our generation it was more of a dictatorship and now it's more of a democracy. We want input from our children of how they want it to be, whereas us that's just how it was.

Janna Koch (26:46):

Yeah. How do you think we transition, thinking about the holidays and parenting, how do we take steps to change our mindset around how that looks for us?

Kelly Scimeca (27:00):

I would say slow and steady. Anything you do to the extreme is probably not going to stick. So just make little changes here and there. Instead of having three glasses of wine, stick to two. So you're still having it, you're still enjoying it, but you're just limiting that. Limit your dessert intake. Or if you are going to stay out late, then make sure the next day you have some time to recuperate. Just little things along the way are really what sticks and what are beneficial.

Janna Koch (27:36):

Yeah. Well, Kelly, what other tips do you have for families and parents, listeners who are struggling with this, maybe even unknown that they're struggling with the holiday blues and they are getting ready to step into this season and we are here and we're saying take a deep breath. We want to encourage you. What are some encouraging words you would have for them?

Kelly Scimeca (28:01):

I would say everybody can benefit from counseling. If you've never gone, try it. If it's been a while since you've gone to make an appointment, it might help you. Holidays are a big time for family, and family is not always pleasant and that's okay. So again, just setting those boundaries, time limits, and reasonable expectations for yourself. I think that is really self-care during the holidays.

Janna Koch (28:32):

Kelly, I appreciate you taking the time not only to spend time with me, which is one of my favorite things to do in this whole wide world, but also to encourage our listeners to even just start thinking about as we approach the holidays, what are their expectations? How can we as homeschool parents, just really make sure that we keep ourselves in check so that we can help them teach our children how to be balanced and stay in check. So thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate your time.

Kelly Scimeca (29:05):

Thank you for having me.

Janna Koch (29:05):

Thank you guys. We just want to encourage you to have happy holidays. We hope that this episode has given you some food for thought that you might want to take stock in how you're feeling as the holidays are fast approaching. Thank you so much. Until next time. Bye-bye.