The holidays are supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year. There are plenty of get-togethers, lots of delicious food, and decorations galore. What's not to be excited about, right? While this is many people's favorite time of year, there are also people that deal with holiday depression.
What Is Holiday Depression?
Holiday depression is simply depression that you feel around the holidays. Some people feel it leading up to the holidays and other people feel it after the holidays are over. This can differ between each person and its cause can also be different from one person to the next.
Some of the causes of holiday depression include:
While some people are feeling merry and bright, others are struggling just to get through the day due to their mental health being impacted. This can be a very difficult thing for people to understand if they haven't experienced it themselves. However, if you have experienced it, or currently are, you know how difficult it can be
What To Know About Depression
Second only to anxiety, depression is the number one mental health problem in the world. It affects both young people and older people alike. In the United States alone, a national mental health study revealed that 17.3 million adults aged 18 and over suffered with at least one major depressive episode during 2017.
The problem with holiday depression is that it can be misinterpreted as being nothing more than the winter blues. So when it comes to the holidays, people are more focused on their physical health issues than their mental health issues. They’re more interested in losing those extra pounds than taking care of their own mental health.
Being unaware that there is a problem can lead to holiday depression evolving into major depression. Medication and counseling are good avenues to seek if you discover that you’re living with symptoms of depression. If you believe that you may have signs of depression, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
What is Depression
This is more than just feeling sad. It is a mental health disorder that is characterized by persistently depressed mood and/or loss of interest in activities a person used to enjoy, to the point that their daily life is affected. In recent years, tools and resources have been made more readily available to help people cope and remedy their depression, such as the creation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that people living with depression can call. Evidence based studies have shown that talking therapies allow people living with depression to discuss what they’re feeling and experiencing, usually with a therapist or medical professional, so that the source of their depression can be rooted out. Treatment services can then provide assistance in conquering depression, or at least keeping it under control.
Support groups are also available so that people living with depression can discover that they are not alone during their challenges. Treatment services don’t have to be difficult to come by, as a BetterHelp counselor or your health care provider can give you the important connections to the tools and resources that you need. If you’re unsure as to whether you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you could always undergo a health screening to help you find out.
Who is More Prone to Depression
Surprisingly enough, young people are more prone to depression than other age groups. In a national mental health study conducted in 2017, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents within the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode in that year.
Other individuals who are more prone to depression include those who have endured physical abuse and mental abuse at some point in their lives, those who have drug abuse problems or some kind of substance use disorder, and individuals who are dealing with concerns over their gender identity and/or sexual attraction in an environment that is not supportive.
If you have dealt or are currently dealing with drug abuse problems, please feel free to call the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800)662-4357.
Depression support can be difficult to come by, especially for young adults who fear retribution if they discuss their concerns with people they trust, or who don’t have access to health care or a health screening. That’s why the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to anyone and everyone. Just call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and you’ll be connected to treatment services you need.
What Treatment Services are Available for Those Living With Depression
There are many treatment services that are available to those seeking help to deal with their depression. Medication and counseling are the two big options that people steer towards the most.
People who have drug abuse issues should be careful around medication for depression, however. Bringing up these concerns with the health services available to you can help you and your therapist make the right choice in finding medication that won’t trigger addiction.
When it comes to counseling, there are several options available. Support groups work well for some people, as it provides you with the foundation and like-minded peers to help you succeed. Evidence based studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy also does well, as it puts the control back in your hands and gives you the tools to deal with depressive episodes when they arrive. Mental health news report CBT works just as well as prescribed medication for depression.
If you’d like to be connected to any of these mental health services, contact the Department of Health in your state or local area so that you can begin treatment services immediately.
With that said, here are some of the tips you can use to help you deal with holiday depression.
The holidays are usually full of tradition. However, if you are feeling depressed, you may not want to go through the motions of the normal activities that you do. That's okay. Don't pressure yourself into trying to keep up with things that you did years ago when you were feeling much better. It's okay to relax on the traditions and let some things go until you feel better. This will be better for your mental health in the long run.
This somewhat contradicts the previous tip, but some people find that if they simply get started on doing an activity or attending a social gathering, they end up feeling better once they get there. The idea of getting dressed up and ready to go might make you want to stay in bed, but once you get to the party you may find that you are enjoying yourself. This can be a nice reprieve from the depression symptoms that you are experiencing and affecting your mental health.
The holidays are usually spent with others, which can set us up for being let down. We may expect a certain person to attend an event that they miss, someone to bring a dish that they forget, or a certain present that doesn't get bought. Let go of your expectations for the year.
Allow things to just happen and don't put pressure on others to make everything "perfect". It's also important to remember if you are dealing with holiday depression that other people are not going to be able to "fix" you. Don't think that everything would just be better if so-and-so did this or that. Remember, that no one else is going to be able to make you feel better when you are depressed.
There is no reason that you should hide your holiday depression from your family and friends. In fact, doing so could lead to your mental health getting worse. Instead, let them know what you are going through and how you are feeling. Make sure to let them know that you don't expect them to make it better. Talk to them about things that you are comfortable with at the moment and also that you may not do all of the things that you normally do during the holidays.
If you are the person that is usually responsible for pulling the holiday together this can be a difficult thing to do. Allow yourself to delegate tasks to others and ask others to pitch in and help. If you've been running the holiday for years, people might not know how to help you with it. Make sure you find a way to divvy up the tasks. Or if your depression has you to the point that doing that sounds too overwhelming, simply hand the reigns over to someone else for the year. Allow them to do it in the way that they see best even if it's different than yours.
It's easy to look back on the good old days and get frustrated that the current holiday looks nothing like it. Maybe you loved the holidays when your children were little, but this year they are grown, married, and spending the holiday with their in-laws.
Allow each holiday to be the best that it can be without comparing it to others. Some will be better than others. They won't be perfect and they can't all be the same.
The pressure of the holiday can make it difficult to rest. There are a lot of activities that need to be completed and places to go. When you are starting to struggle, get out your calendar and start marking time off. Use this as "me time". You could use it to stay home and sleep, watch a holiday movie, read a book, or any other activity that you enjoy.
Make sure that you are getting enough sleep at night. Parties going late and early morning busyness can make it difficult to get the rest you need to feel your best.
Holidays generally come along with big meals and lots of desserts and sweets. This can wreak havoc on your body. It can have a negative impact on your digestive system and rob you of the nutrients that your body needs to be at its best.
Don't be afraid to let yourself indulge a little, but don't let your eating get out of control. If you are feeling down around the holidays, it's easy to find things to snack on instead of dealing with your emotional pain.
There are so many benefits to exercising. It's not only great for your physical body but it's also good for your mind as well, giving your mental health the venting that it needs from all the stress. It helps to boost endorphins in your brain that improve your mood. It can also help you to get better sleep at night and to release anxiety, tension, and anger that you may be feeling.
Even though things get busier for you around the holidays it's still important to take time to exercise.
When feeling depressed, many people start to seclude themselves from others. They withdraw from family and friends, avoid going to social gatherings, and just stay home behind closed doors. This may feel like the most comforting thing to do at the moment, but it is not helpful for you and your holiday depression. The longer you stay by yourself, the more you’ll start feeling lonely and jeopardize your mental health even more.
Some people struggle with holiday depression because they're lonely. If you don't have family and friends to enjoy the holiday with, it can be incredibly lonely because it seems like everyone else is surrounded by people that they love. Remember that this isn't true and there are lots of people that are in the same place as you.
Look for ways to connect with others whether it's getting together with friends or co-workers or looking for a way to volunteer.
Depression usually brings with it a lot of anxious thoughts and worry. It's easy to get so wrapped up in your thinking that you become wrapped up in yourself. Regardless of what's going on around you, you can't help but take your mind off of your worries.
Something that you can do to help fight this is to look for ways to put the focus on other people. You could do this by volunteering your time at a local shelter, visiting a nursing home, or looking for other ways to help those less fortunate than you. Sometimes this simple mind-shift of focusing on other people is enough to help you start to feel better as you are able to appreciate what you do have.
Exercise caution, however; just because you may be in a better situation than other people, that doesn’t mean that your holiday depression isn’t warranted. Coping with depression shouldn’t involve an exercise in comparison, because anyone at any economic level can suffer from it. It’s better to come to terms with the fact that you have it and seek mental health services to get you through it.
If you're dealing with any type of depression, including holiday depression, there's treatment available to help you through your struggle. Just because depression isn't something that you deal with on a normal basis, it doesn't mean that you need to suffer silently through the holidays just waiting to start feeling better when it's over. Your mental health won’t appreciate the constant up-and-down throughout the year, since it will learn to expect it at the same time every year.
Depression can be complicated. You never really know when it's going to just go away. That's why it's best to learn what you can do to address that when you're starting to struggle. The tips included here can help, but it's also a great idea to talk with a therapist or any mental health services. They can help you pinpoint if your depression is coming from a specific event in your life and they can also help you learn additional strategies and tips to deal with your depression.
Sometimes just being able to talk with someone outside of your family and friends about what you're going through can be healing and itself. Look for a local therapist or human services in your area, or you can find an online therapist through companies like BetterHelp. They can connect you with treatment services and support groups you need to start the recovery process and allow you to get the help that you need in dealing with your holiday depression.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
How does holidays affect mental health?
There are statistics on holidays and mental health. According to the national alliance of mental illness or Nami website, 64% of individuals who live with mental health conditions or a mental health disorder (IE, clinical depression) find that the holidays make their condition worse. Specifically, 24% of those who live with a diagnosed mental illness of some kind find that the holidays make their disorder or condition “a lot” worse, and 40% say that the holidays make their disorder or condition “somewhat” worse.
Similarly, even those without a diagnosable mental health condition may experience holiday sadness or the holiday blues. Although they may come with holiday cheer, not everyone experiences holidays such as Thanksgiving day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Day the same. Amidst all of the holiday decorations, these can be times of stress. If you live with a condition such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called major depression with a seasonal pattern, it may be beneficial to seek professional help in the form of talk therapy. There are a number of ways to make this more affordable, such as online therapy platforms like BetterHelp and professionals in your area who offer sliding scale rates. A therapist can help you set realistic goals, find coping skills, and build a treatment plan that works for you as a unique person.
Alongside professional support, there are numerous ways to help yourself cope with holiday stress. For example, stress management and self care activities such as meal prep, meditation, breathing exercises, or physical activity, setting boundaries so that you do not take on more stress, and spending time with supportive and caring people can all be helpful. Supportive people in your life may include but are not limited to old or new friends, loved ones such as a significant other or a specific family member, and people in a support group that you attend. Social connection can be crucial. After all, it’s linked to lower stress levels as well as other improved markers of both physical and mental health.
Why do I struggle with holidays?
There are a number of different reasons as to why someone may struggle with holidays. First, the holiday season is during a time when many individuals experience seasonal depression. It is considered very common to have seasonal affective disorder or major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. In fact, according to the MHA or Mental Health America website, SAD affects 5% of the US population. Patterns of SAD may start in late fall and endure through late spring, though they can vary and may also occur during the Summer for some. Second, the holiday season can be a significant source of stress. Some people don’t get along with their family members, find it difficult to be in the area where their family members live, which they might visit during holiday season, or may experience stress that relates to family and holiday events in another way. The holiday season can also be a time of financial stress. If you have experienced grief or the loss of a loved one, this can be a challenge during the holidays.
All in all, you aren’t alone if you don’t find the holiday season an easy time, and there are various things that can help. Attending talk therapy, surrounding yourself with supportive and caring people, such as your friends or other loved ones (IE, a romantic partner), and self care can all be advantageous. Hobbies and low-stress activities like art, window shopping, and so on, may be something to highlight. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support if you notice ongoing feelings of sadness or otherwise need space to talk.
What are vacation blues?
The vacation blues generally refer to the feelings of sadness someone might encounter post-vacation. If you’re experiencing the “vacation blues,” you may find yourself comparing today to how you felt on vacation, especially if you experienced less stress or more joy while away. There are a couple of things that can help people avoid the vacation blues or post-vacation sadness. First, it can help to plan ahead; you may clean your home before you go to set yourself up for success, as an example. Second, you might plan something to look forward to after your vacation. What if the blues don’t go away? If you experience persistent feelings of sadness, have trouble with important activities, or otherwise experience ongoing concerns, reach out to a professional who can help, such as a therapist.
Why do I not like holidays?
There are a number of reasons as to why someone might not like the holidays. Holiday stress is common and might relate to finances, family life, being away from your support system due to travel, or something else. If you experienced an adverse event during the holiday season in the past, the holidays might prompt negative memories and sadness. People may be more apt to engage in excessive drinking - this can be difficult for those with a history of alcohol use disorder and other similar concerns.
If you or someone you know is or might be experiencing a substance use disorder of any kind, please contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
If there’s a particular upcoming holiday event that feels stressful, it can help to stay present, set realistic expectations, plan ahead, and remind yourself that it won’t last forever (IE, “it’s just one day”). To plan ahead, you may talk with a friend and decide to meet up or call each other afterward, or you may set an intention to take a walk or spend time on another hobby that helps you de-stress and recenter yourself.