Coping with Holiday Depression

The change of seasons and holidays are often very difficult for a lot of people. You may notice that as the time changes, weather gets cooler, daylight ends sooner, and stores putting out holiday merchandise, that your mood seems to change. You mood may not change for the better. Perhaps you get the blues, feel less energy, unmotivated, or you don’t want to leave the house. Maybe you experience other feelings such as anger, sadness, or irritability. This can happen on a yearly basis like clockwork during a particular holiday season. It is fairly common for a lot of people for various reasons. There is added stress and pressure during the holiday season that isn’t there for most of the calendar year. Expectations during the holidays may include being excited and happy to be around family and friends, preparing for parties, large dinners, and gift-giving and other events. Perhaps you may feel like you just want to close yourself off from the world. Even with everyone around you, you may have feelings of loneliness.

You may ask yourself, why do I feel this way every year during the holidays? Why do I not like the holidays? What is wrong with me? Can I fix the issue so that I can actually be present and enjoy my family?

Other people around you may also notice your mood change, and ask you why you are withdrawn, which can cause you to feel embarrassed, ashamed, and more pressure to be present and participate in festivities.

There are ways to cope with depression around the holidays. Here are some tips that can help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, and more in control of your feelings.

Acknowledge how you are feeling – Typically in times of distress or sadness, we often feel ashamed and want to hide how we are feeling from others. I like to call this silent suffering. We believe that no one understands what we are going through, therefore, we must endure the hardship alone. If we learn to acknowledge how we are feeling, then that is the first step to understanding ourselves, and our mood. Being self-aware is a key factor to understanding why we experience the feelings that we do. If you feel miserable, it’s okay to say to yourself “I feel miserable!” After acknowledging how you feel then you should…

Try to understand what caused these feelings. It is helpful to understand the source of the “doom and gloom” feelings. Perhaps it is due to a difficult childhood experience around the holidays, or missing a loved one who is no longer here with you. Maybe you even experienced a difficult trauma around the holidays. Whatever the issue is for you, try to understand and acknowledge it, that way you can…

Plan according to what your needs are. Understanding the cause and effect of why this time of the year is difficult for you is important. This is part of taking care of yourself. You can do this by planning ahead. For example, if you know that Christmas is always a difficult time of the year for you, then you should start planning 1-3 months in advance, for how you need to cope with that difficult month. (I always encourage people to plan far in advance, because of the hectic nature of this season). Your plan should be tailored to your needs. For example, if you need more support, then you may want to start thinking in advance about who you can call on for support during this time. This may be a close family member, friend, therapist, or psychiatrist. If you need time and space alone to grieve or think about things….then make space for that.

Develop your own tradition. Holiday seasons have become very commercialized, and there can be a pressure to conform to what we see in the news media. Examples of this would be spending lavish amounts of money on gifts, attending huge family dinners, spending hours preparing your home with holiday decorations for family and guests. If these are things that you dread doing every year, then you may have to ask yourself “what am I really getting out of this and why am I doing it?” Is there a tradition of my own that I can start, where I don’t feel so pressured or uncomfortable? You can make your own traditions. Examples of this could be feeding the homeless, sending a care package to a US Marine, a grieving ritual for a lost loved one, or having a quiet intimate dinner at home. These are some suggestions. Again you can choose whatever you would like to do. Another suggestion is to….

Avoid mood altering substances, especially alcohol or other depressants. If you are already feeling out of sorts, adding alcohol or other drugs can skew your organic chemical balance. Thus, while you may feel better temporarily, the depression tends to return and will most likely worsen. Also, although alcohol and other substances can be a temporary fix, they are not a permanent solution to the problem.

If you still have trouble managing your holiday depression on your own, then I would encourage you to ask for help. Specifically, if you have to participate in family events, dinners, parties, or etc., ask a friend or a family member help you with staying on track, motivation, and participation. It’s okay to say that you are overwhelmed. And if you feel like this is not enough support, or that your support system isn’t healthy for you; then I would encourage you to seek the assistance of a professional.

© Natalie Jones, LPCC, PsyD. | Clinical Psychologist