Despite the joyous presentation of the holiday season, in reality, many people struggle with depression during this time of year. It is easy for someone to struggle with the ideal of what the holidays represent versus how they actually feel during the season. Many feel an increased amount of pressure to perform. Buying gifts, spending more time at social gatherings, and feeling pressure to remain positive and happy through it all can be overwhelming. When a person’s inner feelings differ from what they believe the expectation is, it can make them feel worse.
Depression can be worsened during this time of year for a variety of reasons. An increase in the number of activities can feel draining. There may be increased stress due to family demands, travel, shopping, and feeling unable to manage the expectations of others. Daily rituals are easily disrupted and managing your diet or exercise is difficult. For some, however, the holidays may be an unfriendly reminder of loneliness. The holiday season focuses heavily on family and friendship, but for those without those close connections, it can be a painful reminder. Regardless of the position someone finds themselves in, the holidays can take a toll on physical and mental health.
What Can Trigger Depression During the Holidays
While there are a plethora of factors and reasons that go into the development of depression and experiences during the holidays, some themes are more prevalent than others. Depression is often worsened during the holiday season because of:
- Increase in demands: The holidays are a busy time of year. Streets, shopping malls, and other venues are more packed than usual. More parties, social gatherings, and celebrations are planned. Gift exchanges, traveling, and spending time with family increases. All of these factors coming together in a short period of time can overwhelm even the most resilient person. The holidays add additional demands to a person’s already busy schedule, making it easy for a person to feel consumed and unable to manage expectations.
- Stress: The increase in demands alone can make anyone feel stressed, but struggling with other hardships during this time of year can make it especially stressful. Experiencing a significant loss during the holiday season can make it difficult to feel happy or joyful. Grieving the loss of a job, a loved one, or feeling stress due to other life experiences, can worsen how you feel, especially when you feel pressure to be exceptionally happy during this time of year.
- Family issues: It is impossible to mention the holidays without the idea of spending time with family surfacing. While spending time with loved ones can be enjoyable, issues can often surface, especially if there is addiction, abuse, loss, separation, dysfunction, or a myriad of other issues under the surface. The holidays often cause a person to have to face situations in which they must manage their emotions about specific issues. This is true even for those who do not have family they can spend the holidays with. While they may not have to deal directly with someone, coping with the memories or emotions related to family can be equally overwhelming. If you have been through family therapy, this may be the time to draw on those skills learned.
- Pressure to feel happy: Despite how unrealistic it is, the holidays are often portrayed as a happy time of year meant for celebration. People tend to act more warmly and interact more positively with others. For those who struggle with depression, it can feel impossible to meet what you perceive others expect. Depression leaves many feeling stressed, fatigued, sad, irritable, and unable to deal with expectations. Feeling unable to match the joy of others can increase stress and strengthen symptoms of depression.
- Changes in weather: It is also not uncommon for people to feel increasingly sad during the holidays because of weather changes. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often occurs during winter months when the temperature drops and it gets darker earlier in the day. Many symptoms of SAD are similar to depression and can make it difficult to get into the holiday spirit.
How to Manage Depression During the Holiday Season
When you begin to feel stress and overwhelmed, it’s easy to succumb to those feelings rather than regroup and collect your thoughts. There are steps you can take before the holiday season hits to better prepare yourself for the inevitable stress. Rather than letting the stress of the holidays overtake you, you can learn to recognize your triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms so that you can enjoy the season a little bit more.
- Acknowledge and allow your feelings: Feeling pressured to stay positive and happy through the holiday season is an unrealistic expectation. When you feel sad or frustrated, allow yourself to process those emotions. Trying to bury them for the sake of appearing joyful will not help the situation.
- Ask for help: If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or alone, it is okay to seek support from loved ones. Aside from connecting with friends and family, you can also find companionship through local community groups and volunteer work. This can help you broaden your relationships and make you feel fulfilled.
- Have realistic expectations: As people get older, things change. Not everyone is able to spend the holidays together, traditions fade, and the memories of past holidays can seem picturesque and perfect compared to what they are now. Keeping a realistic mindset regarding the holidays will help prevent setting yourself up for disappointment. Create new traditions and ways to celebrate to avoid the pitfalls of nostalgia.
- Make a budget: The holidays can be especially stressful because of the financial toll. Gift-giving and travel are both sources of financial strain. Creating a budget before shopping for presents and food can help you avoid overspending.
- Plan ahead: It is easy to get caught in the whirlwind of the holiday season. You can easily become burned out from engaging in too many activities. Instead, try planning your days and activities in advance. Make time for rest and relaxation to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
- Learn to say “no”: It can feel impossible to say “no” during the holidays, but in order to prevent feeling resentment or stressed, it is critical. You are not obligated to participate in every activity you are invited to. If you are in a situation where you cannot say “no”, look to see if there’s something else you can remove from your plate.
- Make time for yourself: Finding quiet time to relax can help you feel refreshed and able to handle anything. The benefits of yoga and meditation while in recovery from substance abuse or depression are countless. Eating healthy, exercising, reading, or going for a quiet walk are all things you can do to help you feel better and restore a sense of inner peace.
- Connect with professional help: While you are able to make changes to ease the effects of depression, you are under no obligation to address it alone. If your feelings persist, do not hesitate to speak with a doctor or mental health professional about what you are experiencing. They can help you take control of your mental health.