The holidays are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, but it’s common for others to feel sluggish, unhappy, or even depressed over the Christmas season. The expectation of being happy during this time also plays into the fear and loneliness that come with the holiday blues.

What Is Holiday Depression?

Holiday depression is a kind of depression that occurs during the holiday season. Some people feel it before the holidays, which may be linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), while others feel it after the holidays, likely because they have to leave their families.

Here are other common causes of holiday depression:

It’s often thought that the absence of family during the holidays leads to depression, but being around family members who abuse or shame you will also add a lot of unwanted stress. 

Taking care of your mental and physical health is important. If you’re suffering from holiday depression or another form of depression, experts advise seeking mental health services such as psychiatry or counseling, aimed to improve your overall health and wellness.

A Deeper Look at Depression as a Whole: What Is It?

Depression is the most common mental health problem second to anxiety and can affect anyone, young or old. An estimated 19.4 million adults in the United States experienced at least one depressive episode in 2019 and showed a high prevalence in the 18-25 age group (15.2%).

Holiday depression can be misinterpreted as a passing feeling, but it can evolve into major depression. Remember that depression is more than just feeling sad. If holiday depression persists and prevents your ability to enjoy life, you may be living with major depressive disorder.

Specific circumstances can trigger other forms of depression, such as:

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: A chronic, low level of depression.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Depression could follow a manic episode.
  • Postpartum Depression: Depression caused by hormonal changes.
  • Psychotic Depression: Depression that accompanies hallucinations.
  • ADHD: Depression often co-occurs with ADHD.

Specific demographics are also more prone to depression than others. Anyone who has endured mental or physical abuse, a substance use disorder, or is questioning their gender identity/sexual orientation in an unsupportive environment is more likely to be depressed.

Depression Symptoms: Is it Holiday Blues or Depression?

Before going through the steps to cope with this disorder, it’s important to understand whether your holiday blues are masquerading as depression. If depression goes untreated, it could worsen and prevent you from enjoying the holidays. Remember: You deserve to be happy!

You likely have depression if your feelings of sadness persist for a couple of weeks and:

  • You feel irritable and angry over small things.
  • You have this feeling of restlessness or fear/anxiety.
  • You’re having issues managing your anger.
  • You no longer are interested in sex or other activities you used to enjoy.
  • You fixate over past occurrences, including regrets or embarrassment.
  • You are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
  • You’re oversleeping or undersleeping.
  • You feel overwhelmingly tired in the morning.
  • Your appetite has decreased or increased.
  • You’re experiencing an extreme amount of weight gain or loss.
  • You find it difficult to concentrate.
  • You have unexplained aches and pains.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, your doctor can help manage your symptoms. Make an appointment if your symptoms last longer than a week. Your doctor will likely administer a physical exam and blood test to rule out other health problems.

How to Cope With Depression or Holiday Blues

If you have depression or suspect you have depression, it’s important that you speak to a therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy successfully treats depression every single day. However, if you ruled out depression or want to do more than therapy, try the following.

Switch Up Your Tradition

If you’re feeling depressed, know that switching up your holiday traditions is okay. Don’t pressure yourself to get involved when you don’t want to. On the other hand, you may feel better once you start going through the motions. Either way, take it slow for your own benefit.

Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations

Our families aren’t perfect. They may forget to buy you that gift you wanted or feel too tired to cook a portion of the meal. It’s easy to get disappointed and feel like you want to “fix” everything, but you can still have fun even when things don’t go as planned.

Tell Someone Close to You

Unless there’s a good reason to hide your depression from your family, you should absolutely tell them what’s going on. Let them know how you’re feeling, but tell them that you don’t expect them to make it better. Explain that you just want to talk and feel heard this holiday.

Let People Help You

It’s hard to ask people to help you during the holidays, but if having to do everything stresses you out, please ask for help. Delegate tasks to others, especially if you’ve been running things for a while. Others may not know how to help you, but they’re likely willing to give you a hand.

Don’t Compare Past and Future Holidays

When you’re a kid, the holidays have a special, magical quality to them, but as an adult, they’re filled with expectations. Try to accept that your holidays look different now, not necessarily worse. Allow each holiday to be the best it can be without comparing it to others.

Take Care of Yourself

Holiday pressure can make it difficult for you to rest, but you still need to care for yourself. Make sure you have enough “me time” during the holidays by doing an activity you enjoy. Don’t forget to eat healthily and exercise during this time, so you can recover from the blues faster.

Skip the Holidays

While avoidance isn’t the best advice in some cases, it definitely can be if your family members make you feel unloved or unwanted during the holidays. You don’t have to put up with abuse just because they’re your family. If canceling this year will help your mental health, then do so.

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