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How to Identify and Cope With Holiday Depression

Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon



While the lights and festivities are everywhere, some people silently battle holiday sadness. It has many names, from “holiday depression” to “Christmas blues,” but the essence is always the same. It is an emotional struggle, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, happening because of unmet expectations, negative memories or experiences, and increased stress.

In this article, we shed light on the causes of holiday depression and discuss different ways to cope with it. Read on to learn how to help yourself and others by promoting empathy and resilience during this season.

Take the first step toward healing

If you feel extremely sad during holidays and these symptoms are not getting milder in two weeks, consider seeking professional help.

The Impact of Holidays on Mental Health

While the holidays can be fulfilling and happy for some, others may find it challenging. The experiences vary because of different personal circumstances, family dynamics, financial situation, an overwhelming period at work and studies, and many more. It is a time when one may encounter anxiety and stress [1*] about different holiday-related matters, from searching for and affording gifts to working long hours to spending time with relatives who have different worldviews.

Even though not necessarily, people with emotional struggles may have additional pressure too. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that 64% of those who deal with mental health conditions feel worse during the holiday season. However, it doesn’t mean short-term sadness and apathy caused by situational triggers will transform into a mental health disorder. Let’s have a closer look at holiday depression and how it differs from seasonal affective disorder.

What Is Holiday Depression?

Holiday depression or holiday blues is a term used to describe the emotional upset experienced throughout the holiday season. A variety of factors, such as painful reminders of past losses, the weight of expectations, and a bitter sting of loneliness and financial hardship, can make you depressed on holidays.

Signs and Symptoms of Holiday Depression

Holiday depression symptoms include:

  • Sadness or low mood. A continuous feeling of emptiness, hopelessness, or sadness.
  • Fatigue. A lack of drive or energy that makes it challenging to go about daily activities.
  • Changes in sleep patterns. Oversleeping or insomnia may be signs of depression during the holidays.
  • Changes in appetite. Notable alterations in eating patterns [2*] , like binge eating or appetite suppression.
  • Isolation. Withdrawing from social interactions and cutting ties with loved ones.
  • Increased irritability. Mood swings or an overall feeling of being on edge.
  • Physical symptoms. Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, or other physical problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating. Trouble concentrating on tasks, making decisions, or recalling information.
  • Increased substance usage. An increase in the use of alcohol or other drugs as an attempt to cope with sadness.
  • Feelings of remorse or guilt. Focusing on previous mistakes or experiencing regret for falling short of expectations during the holidays.

Understand and overcome your symptoms

Discuss your emotional struggles with a healthcare professional. Receive an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment.

Why Do People Get Depressed Around the Holidays?

Several things can contribute to sadness during holidays, such as:

  • Loneliness. For those who are away from friends and family, feeling alone or cut off from loved ones during the holidays can exacerbate depression.
  • Past trauma or loss. Grief or sadness related to the death of a loved one or tragic events in the past may become more intense over the holiday season [3*] .
  • Financial stress. Stress and financial strain can result from the temptation to spend money on gifts, vacations, and other holiday-related costs.
  • Unrealistic expectations. Holiday stress and disappointment can result from having unrealistic expectations for the “perfect” holiday, get-togethers with family, or present-giving.
  • Family conflicts. Spending time with family during the holidays can be complex if there are any unresolved issues or strained relationships.
  • Social comparisons. Feelings of inadequacy or dissatisfaction can arise when someone compares their life to perceived ideals portrayed in the media or by others.
  • Increased demands. Holiday planning, parties, excessive drinking, and social commitments can strain limited resources and emotional health.

Pressure to be happy. For some, it can be challenging to overcome the pressure from society related to having holiday cheer.

Holiday Blues vs Seasonal Affective Disorder

Even though holiday blues may be mistaken for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [4*] , they have differences. Seasonal depression is common in the fall and winter when there is less natural sunlight which may lead to disbalance in serotonin and melatonin. It can last for almost half a year. On the other hand, holiday depression is caused by particular stressors related to celebrations, and it goes away when the holidays are over.

There is nothing dangerous in feeling sad during the holidays. However, it’s recommended to get assessed for major depressive disorder if the symptoms become severe and last longer than two weeks. It’s also essential to see a professional if you experience a loss of interest in the activities you usually enjoy, coupled with persistent hopelessness, sleep issues, and other symptoms. You can consult a primary care physician, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse, or a licensed clinical social worker to go through an evaluation and receive a diagnosis.

Prioritize your mental wellness

Have an online consultation with a mental health professional and receive an individualized treatment plan.

How to Deal With Holiday Depression

If you experience negative emotions during the holidays due to any of the causes discussed earlier in this article, the techniques below may be helpful for you in coping with holiday blues.

Loneliness at Christmas

  • Participate in social events. Engage in activities that support a sense of purpose and are consistent with your values.
  • Initiate gatherings with family and friends.
  • Starting new customs that bring you joy.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol to not exacerbate the blues.

Financial Constraints

  • Establish a spending plan for the holidays.
  • Concentrate on giving thoughtful gifts that are reasonably priced — giving is not only about money.
  • Look into low-cost holiday decorations and celebration ideas.

Strained Relationships and Stress From Family Gatherings

  • Establish personal boundaries during gatherings.
  • Learn and use techniques for stress management and conflict resolution.
  • Consider having frank discussions about expectations and possible stressors.

Reduced Daylight

  • Stay active and spend more time outdoors.
  • Exercise regularly to improve the release of endorphins.
  • Maintain healthy habits, such as a balanced diet and adequate sleep.

Echoes of Past Trauma or Loss

  • Feel free to skip the celebration if it doesn’t feel right for you.
  • Maintain the traditions you are used to.
  • Seek support from significant others. Feel free to tell them how exactly they can help you to avoid discomfort.
  • Seek professional help if these feelings overwhelm you.

Social Comparisons

  • Set realistic expectations.
  • Put self-care first and be honest about your boundaries.
  • Concentrate on the things that make you happy and fulfilled.
  • Start your own customs that give the holidays joy and significance.

When and Where to Seek Help for Depression

If you’re feeling depressed, hopeless, or uninterested in once-enjoyed tasks daily, for more than two weeks, that is a sign you may need to seek help. It is also important to see a mental health professional if the symptoms of depression interfere with your relationships, career, or day-to-day functioning. Treatment for depression may include antidepressant medications, talk therapy, or both methods. A professional can also inform you about lifestyle changes that may be helpful in your recovery.

Contact MEDvidi for personalized help

Early diagnosis raises the effectiveness of treatment. Take care of yourself to go through holidays and any other seasons calmly and confidently.

If you’re experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts and require immediate assistance, you can contact crisis hotlines, such as 911, 988 suicide & crisis lifeline [5*] (toll-free), and Samaritans (116-123 or via chat).

In Conclusion

Cultivating empathy and open communication are essential in dealing with holiday blues. If you feel sad on Christmas or any other celebrations, try to identify what could trigger such an emotional response and surround yourself with supportive and caring people. Getting professional help when necessary will also help you overcome the complexity of emotions during this time of the year.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is normal to feel sadness during the Christmas season. It may happen because of social, financial, and many other factors. Holiday blues normally fade away when holidays end, but if these feelings remain for longer, consider seeing a mental health professional.
Seek assistance from friends and family, take care of yourself, and make sure your expectations from the holiday season are reasonable. Remember to see a mental health specialist if the symptoms become prolonged or unbearable.
According to NAMI, holidays can make mental health disorders worse, including clinical depression. However, this is not always the case, and some people with depression may not experience the aggravation of symptoms.
Holiday anxiety is a real phenomenon defined as increased stress and uneasiness during the holidays. It can be connected to a number of things, including family get-togethers, financial difficulty, and social obligations.
Make sure you’ve set realistic expectations for the holiday season, prioritize joyful activities and self-care, and think about getting professional help if anxiety and depression overwhelm you.

The “blue mood” following a holiday, often known as the “post-holiday blues,” is characterized by depressive or negative ideas when the celebrations end. It’s a common happening, and organizing fun activities and practicing self-care can make the shift to routine easier.

Different stressors, such as family gatherings, societal expectations, financial hardship, and the emphasis on holiday cheer and joy — which may conflict with personal feelings or experiences—can affect mental health during the holidays.


5 sources
  1. https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Unassigned/APA_Holiday-Stress_PPT-REPORT_November-2021_update.pdf
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  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818200/
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  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12499125/
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  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673349/#sec2title
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  5. https://988lifeline.org/
    Source link
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon



Prioritize your mental well-being

Consult a healthcare professional online and receive a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

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This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.