Mental Health and the Holidays: Understanding and Overcoming Holiday Depression

Mental Health and the holidays

The holiday season, often considered the most joyous time of the year, isn’t always filled with cheer for everyone. According to medical experts, one out of six people experiences “Christmas blues,” akin to seasonal affective disorder. This condition manifests with a range of physical and psychological symptoms, including exhaustion, loss of interest in activities, irritability, reduced libido, weight change, and stress. These symptoms start prior to the holiday and can last until the festivities conclude.

Mental Health & the Holidays

Let’s first start by understanding the symptoms and what causes depression during this time of the year. First, it is important to distinguish between holiday blues and more severe depressive symptoms is crucial. While the former includes transient feelings of fatigue and stress; the latter entails persistent depressed mood, anhedonia, guilt, psychomotor retardation, or even suicidal thoughts, potentially leading to a full-blown depressive disorder. If you or a loved one has severe depression or suicidal thoughts it is imperative to seek help: Help is available 24/7 by dialing 988 or visiting the Suicide Crisis Line online

What’s Behind the High & Lows?

The two primary culprits that contribute to the mental health highs & lows during the holidays are high expectations and loneliness. The pressure to conform to an idealized holiday image, coupled with societal norms emphasizing constant happiness, can leave individuals feeling disappointed or inadequate. During the holiday fun is almost compulsory, but the expectations of buying gifts and preparing for company amongst our already hectic schedules can lead us to feel like we have failed. 

Secondly, loneliness is a harsh reality of the holiday season. This stems from factors like the absence of family, close relatives, or kids. Additionally, recent life changes like divorce, illness, and economic problems may further intensify these emotions during the holiday season. 

So, now that? Should you seek treatment or is this normal for this time of year?  Typically, holiday blues do not require drug treatment, as symptoms are transient. Instead, it’s crucial to introspect, acknowledge negative feelings, and adopt coping strategies. However, if you do not feel that these feelings will pass, it is very important to seek help. 

Seeking Treatment for the Holiday Blues

Today, there are several companies online that offer just this from the comfort of your own home. Recently published, The Best Online Therapy Services is a great place to find help today! However, there are alternatives to seeking treatment that include several activities: 

  • Redefine Your Holiday: Recognize there’s no “correct” way to spend the season. Set your limits and recognize the true meaning of the holidays beyond the material items and overconsumption.
  • Rest and Sleep: Prioritize sufficient rest to combat fatigue and stress.
  • Moderation in Consumption: Avoid excesses in food and alcohol, as they can worsen mood lead to weight gain, and prolong depression.
  • Personalized Activities: Create a list of enjoyable activities, avoiding overload, and stick to what is pleasant for you. 
  • Budget Organization: Plan your expenses to alleviate financial stress.
  • Selective Socialization: Avoid negative influences and unproductive social interactions.
  • Limit Social Media: Reduce exposure to curated, potentially misleading, happy images. You don’t have to compare to others! 
  • Gratitude Practice: Focus on what you have and cultivate a positive mindset. Think Positive!
  • Volunteering: Participate in activities benefiting those less fortunate. When you give love, you take love back. For opportunities to volunteer visit VolunteerMatch and search for the nearest opportunity. 
  • Wellness Activities: Engage in reading, music, sleep, exercise, and outdoor walks for mental health. Time spent in the sun will increase antidepressant substances in your brain!

If you find these activities not helping or your holiday-related depression recurs annually and persists, seeking professional therapy is advisable. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association is a great place to confidentially seek help! A therapist can help unravel negative thought patterns and initiate a long-term healing process.

Additionally, I would like to share some preventive measures with the holidays just around the corner:

  • Open Communication: Share feelings with someone close to avoid isolation. The biggest enemy of a depressed person is hiding their feelings.
  • Plan Alternatives: Consider changing your holiday routine to alleviate stressors and avoid situations that make you anxious. 
  • Exercise Routine: The holidays are a great time to initiate an exercise program to combat long-term stress, plus a great way not to gain any holiday weight.
  • Expert Consultation:  Remember, you can always consider discussing your feelings with a mental health professional.

Holiday Blues vs. Depression: Know the Difference 

Are you still not sure if you have the holiday blues or suffer from depression? An easy and accurate method to assess depression would be to take an online mental health assessment that can help you gain valuable insights. There are new online AI assessments using voice and speech or traditional mental health screening tools like the PHQ-9. Additionally, online apps and programs can provide screening and professional help. A few options are listed below:

Lastly, for those already grappling with depression, the holiday season may exacerbate symptoms. Seek guidance from a medical professional, as holiday depression could be a harbinger of underlying psychological issues that might surface at different times of the year. By recognizing, addressing, and actively managing holiday depression, individuals can safeguard their mental health and cultivate a year-round sense of well-being. 

Remember, embracing your feelings, seeking professional advice, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are essential for enjoying life’s every moment.

About the Author

Dr. Sali is an experienced neurologist with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in Clinical Neurology, Electromyography, Dementia, Emergency Neurology, Outpatient clinics. 

Dimitra Sali
Dr. Sali is an experienced neurologist with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in Clinical Neurology, Electromyography, Dementia, Emergency Neurology, Outpatient clinics.

Stay in the Know

Subscribe to the LANGaware Newsletter and get the latest in mental

and cognitive health delivered straight to your inbox