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mental health / wellness

How to Cope with Holiday Depression and Stress

by BetterSleep
Dec 8 2022 • 5 min read
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While some people find the holiday season full of excitement and joy, others find it brings up difficult emotions. It can cause stress, loneliness, and even suicidal thoughts to bubble to the surface.

Even if you love the holiday season, you can experience periods of stress when things get busy. The holidays are a time when your attention is pulled in all directions, which can lead to feelings of exhaustion or the holiday blues.

People with mental health conditions may be even more susceptible to holiday depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of those with a mental illness report feeling worse during the holiday season.

What Are the Causes of Holiday Depression?

There are many reasons why people might suffer from holiday depression. A few of the possible causes include:

Lack of Sleep

A busy holiday schedule can lead to a poor sleep schedule. Less sleep leads to increased stress levels and can lead to depression.

Stressful Schedules

It’s common to feel holiday stress when you have a jam-packed schedule. If you have a large family and group of friends, you may find yourself rushing around to see everyone.

Excessive Drinking

Overeating and excessive drinking are common unhealthy coping mechanisms during the holidays. This can lead to a lack of sleep and the feelings of depression to be even more pronounced.

Increased Pressure

Are you the chosen one cooking for the whole family or a group of friends? You may set high expectations for yourself which is another stressor in an already hectic time of year.

Loneliness and Isolation

On the flip side, maybe you don’t have family or friends to celebrate the holidays with. Isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and grief at a time of year that has so much emphasis on being with family members.

Financial Stress

The holiday season is a time when finances can be stretched to their limits. Not having enough money to buy your kids the toys they want can lead to stress and feelings of sadness.

Seasonal Depression

The holiday season coincides with the days getting darker and colder. This can cause depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Another possible cause of the holiday blues is that holidays mark the end of one year and the start of the next. This may cause you to reflect on what you have or haven’t achieved and any feelings of regret.

If you set yourself goals, you may be feeling depressed if you haven’t quite achieved them. And, it’s not just adults that feel holiday sadness. Keep an eye on your kids and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Holiday Depression

Common signs of depression during the holidays include persistent feelings of sadness. These begin during the holiday season and vary in duration and intensity. Other signs of the holiday blues include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Upset sleep patterns
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Excessive daytime tiredness
  • Feeling constantly worried, anxious or tense
  • Loss of interest in doing the things you used to enjoy

Difference Between Holiday Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD and holiday depression are similar, and it can be hard to pinpoint which one you’re suffering from. However, the severity and duration of your symptoms usually offer a few clues:

  • SAD. Starts in late fall/early winter. Often lasts for 40% of the year through to the spring or summer. Symptoms can be severe and may stop you from functioning.
  • Holiday Depression. Starts in November or December. Usually finishes shortly after the new year. Symptoms are usually mild.

How to Diagnose the Holiday Blues?

While the holiday blues are not a major depressive disorder, it’s still worth talking to your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing. They will assess your symptoms and may perform tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Tips to Manage Stress and Depression During the Holidays

If you’re suffering from the holiday blues, take a look at these tips to help you cope:

Exercise Regularly

While it is hard to fit exercise into a busy holiday schedule, studies have shown that regular physical activity can help to reduce and prevent the symptoms of depression. Even a short walk each day can help keep depression symptoms at bay.

Get Out in Nature

If you can, go for walks in nature. A study published in the journal PNAS in 2019 showed how being out in green spaces can reduce mental health risks in the long term.

Drink in Moderation

Because alcohol is a depressant, drinking too much can lead to negative feelings and elevated levels of anxiety. While you don’t have to avoid alcohol altogether, aim to limit yourself to one or two drinks at each social get-together.

Spend Time with Friends

Social isolation is a major cause of depression. However, when you’re feeling down, you may just want to hide away.

As tempting as this may be, look for ways to get out and speak to people, even if you can’t go home for the holidays. Volunteer your time, go out a meet a friend, or join a local club for support.

Find Time to Relax

Make sure you find time for yourself to enjoy relaxation. Even just 20 minutes a day reading a book, listening to music, doing yoga, or taking a bath, will aid in bringing your anxiety levels down.

Learn to Say “No”

Around the holidays, more people might be making demands of your time. Fun party invites may become stressful obligations you feel you can’t get out of.

Know that it is ok to say “no” and you don’t have to please everyone. Focus on self-care and refrain from over-committing.

Keep Expectations Realistic

While it’s good to go out and have fun in the holidays, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations such as going to every party and wanting to cook the best dinner ever will only pile on the stress.

Focus on a mix of being social and taking time to relax in the holidays and you’ll keep the holiday blues at bay.

Use Volunteering Opportunities

There are many charities selflessly working away over the holidays. To ease loneliness and make new connections, see what volunteering opportunities are available in your neighborhood.

Consider Talk Therapy

If you try out all the tips above to manage stress and depression over the holidays and still feel like you’re struggling, it’s ok to seek support. Ask your doctor about accessing talk therapy with a mental health professional.

If you don’t fancy therapy, you can still talk through your feelings with a friend or loved one. Talking about your feelings will help you to manage your feelings in the long run.

How to Get Help for Holiday Depression?

If your holiday stress doesn’t seem to go away or your depression becomes overwhelming, this might be a sign of something else going on. You might be suffering from a major depressive order, which may need medications or psychotherapy.

Your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health professional, who can help get to the cause of what’s happening and work with you to find the best treatment options.

Conclusion

November and December can be tough months if you’re struggling with sadness. But. always remember that there are things you can do to change things for the better.

Start by keeping a journal detailing the triggers for your anxiety and sadness. By learning what causes your seasonal sadness, you can put preventative measures in place before they bring you down.

Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress levels and a low mood. Download the BetterSleep app for relaxing music, guided meditations, and bedtime stories to help you sleep deeper and longer.

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