The holiday season can be filled with joy, festivities, and cheer. But it can also be filled with grief, loneliness, despair, and sadness. And we’re not just talking about being a little blue. We’re talking about dealing with depression during the holidays. Even if you don’t necessarily struggle with clinical depression other times of the year, the holidays have a way of bringing up some pretty hefty, challenging emotions.
And it’s okay. You’re certainly not alone.
There’s something called the “holiday blues,” which refers to temporary or situational depression during the fall and winter holiday seasons. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), this is relatively common.
The holiday blues are definitely a reason to seek out professional support. (There’s never a “wrong” time.) But if your sadness goes beyond the blues, you may be dealing with holiday depression. Or, perhaps you already deal with depression, and the holidays just exacerbate your symptoms.
No matter what the cause, there are healthy ways to cope with depression during the holidays.
Common Causes of Holiday Depression
Whether the holidays are emotionally challenging for you or if your depression worsens during this season, it’s certainly difficult to cope when seemingly everyone around you is merry and bright. Of course, there are underlying causes for clinical depression, but here are some things that could amplify the challenging symptoms you feel.
- Grief, loss, or separation from loved ones: Losing a loved one is challenging any time of the year. But during the holiday season, their absence is often felt more strongly. Whether family or loved ones have passed away, moved, separated, are deployed, or otherwise apart from you, enduring the holidays without them can be extremely difficult.
- Hectic, stressful schedules: Life is often frantic and busy outside the holiday season. Adding holiday get-togethers, parties, shopping, and events to your already jam-packed schedule is a recipe for stress and holiday depression.
- Challenging family dynamics: Hollywood often paints an unrealistic picture of loving, happy families during holidays. It might be true for some, but it’s unlikely everything is all roses and rainbows with your family members. Family conflicts, feuds, and clashing personalities can make the holidays stressful, adding to holiday depression symptoms.
- Loneliness: Not everyone has a large family or group of friends to celebrate the holidays with, and there is a lot of emphasis on celebrating with others. If you are more isolated and have few family and friends to celebrate with, dealing with depression during the holidays is something you may face.
- Self-imposed pressure: Maybe you’re the host of the holiday get-togethers. Or perhaps you are in charge of elaborate traditions with your children, friends, or family. The impending to-do list of these and other things you put on yourself can add to feelings of holiday depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): While this aptly-named depression disorder can actually happen any time of the year, many individuals struggle with it during the fall and winter months – during the holiday season. The sky getting darker and greyer, and cooler temperatures can impact holiday depression.
9 Ways to Cope With Depression During the Holidays
First off, we want to emphasize that none of the following healthy coping mechanisms for depression during the holidays are meant to take the place of professional mental health support. Seeking help and attending treatment sessions is essential to your mental well-being, especially if you deal with clinical depression.
The following tips work best when combined with mental health treatment.
Set Healthy Boundaries
If you’re dealing with depression during the holidays, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s why it’s vital to take note of what you feel comfortable doing and what is just going to add to your stress and depression symptoms.
Don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries for your mental health and well-being and be upfront about it. It’s okay to decline an invitation to something or let the host know you’ll be leaving early. And if you do attend events or gatherings, steer clear of people you don’t feel comfortable interacting with, if possible.
Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t only mean saying “no” to things, either. It’s about saying “yes” to things that bring you joy or energize you, even if that means staying home to read a book. Your boundaries are more important than showing up for others when you don’t want to.
You may be estranged from your family and only have a few people to spend holidays with. But there’s always someone. “Family” doesn’t have to be biological. You can spend your holidays with people who bring you joy, whether they are related to you or not.
Even if you can’t spend time with people in person, staying connected is essential, even via phone or video chat. You don’t have to have a “perfect” holiday with your biological family. But it is vital to stay connected with someone. It’s a healthy way of coping with depression during the holidays
One of the most beneficial things you can do to deal with depression during the holidays is to do good things for others. Holiday depression can make you feel isolated and cause you to lack motivation to get out and “do,” but you’ll be glad you did.
Participating in charity work can connect you with others and ease loneliness for you and those you help.
Try Light Therapy
Whether you deal with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or not, the fall and winter months tend to be gloomier and lack less sunlight, which is a natural mood booster, thanks to serotonin. If possible, get outside in the sunlight as much as possible. If not, work near a window to boost your serotonin levels.
If you can’t get much natural sunlight, consider trying artificial light therapy. Experts say that using a light box for 10-30 minutes per day within one hour of waking can significantly improve your mood.
Coping with depression during the holidays can be extremely draining. Practicing self-care is crucial, which means treating yourself with patience, kindness, and forgiveness just like you would a loved one.
Acknowledge and accept your feelings, rest when you need it, eat a healthy diet, stay active, and participate in activities that fulfill you.
Start a New Holiday Tradition
Perhaps this is your first holiday season after a breakup. Or maybe you lost people close to you. No matter what struggles you are facing, you absolutely do not have to keep up with the same traditions you’ve practiced in the past. If they are too painful for you, try something new.
Consider going out to eat rather than hosting or going to a friend or family member’s house. (Invite someone along if possible!) Maybe you could go to the movies or donate to charity instead of spending money on many gifts.
Lean on Your Support System
Let those in your support network know you’re struggling this holiday season. Be specific with what you need and try not to isolate yourself, however much you may want to. Let others know you could use a weekly check-in or ask them to be available if you need someone to talk to you. The important thing is to know you’re not alone when dealing with depression during the holidays.
It can be tempting to drown your difficult feelings in alcohol. But when you’re trying to cope with depression during the holidays, alcohol isn’t going to help in the long run. In fact, studies show that because alcohol is a depressant, it could make your depression symptoms worse.
If you’re going to a party or gathering where you know alcohol will be served, consider bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage along.
Don’t Skip Therapy
If you’re already seeing a mental health professional, don’t skip sessions. In fact, consider seeing them more often. And if you’re on medication for depression, don’t skip taking it.
And if you’re looking for depression treatment in San Diego, our team of experienced and caring clinicians is ready to help get you through the holiday season and beyond.
At BOLD Health, We’re Here to Help You With High-Quality Depression Therapy in San Diego
Holiday depression isn’t something you should try to deal with on your own. Reaching out for help can get you through these challenging times and teach you healthy coping mechanisms so you can live a more fulfilling life now and far into the future.
At BOLD Health, we provide comprehensive, individualized depression treatment in San Diego and online in California. We take the time to get to know and understand you, your circumstances, and what brought you to our door. Your tailored depression therapy in San Diego may include:
- individual therapy
- group therapy
- medication management
- intensive outpatient program (IOP in San Diego)
- ketamine treatment
Contact us for more information about our depression treatment options in San Diego and how we can help you through holiday depression and into the future.