Looking for a BETTER way to beat holiday depression? You’re not alone.
The holiday season running from Thanksgiving through New Years can be a magical time filled with feasts, parties, family get-togethers, festively wrapped packages under the tree. But for many people, the holidays are much darker, filled with loneliness and deep despair.
What Are the Holiday Blues?
The holiday blues refer to a period of sadness or depression around the holidays, particularly those in November and December. Unlike clinical depression, these blues are temporary and tend to lift shortly after the holidays end.
Though anyone can experience the holiday blues, those with prior mental health conditions may be more prone to stress and depression during this time. According to a 2014 survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that a whopping 64% of people diagnosed with mental health issues reported worsening conditions during the holidays. (1)
Signs and Symptoms of Holiday Depression
The signs of holiday depression vary widely and may include: (2)
- Sleeping longer than usual
- Tension and anxiety
- Changes in appetite
- Weight changes
- Feeling mentally “scattered”
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or shame
- Feeling “down” or irritated
- Sense of loss
What Causes the Holiday Blues?
There are numerous reasons why many people experience depression during the holiday season.
Being without friends and family is a significant predictor of the holiday blues. Social isolation is one of the top causes of depression in general, especially for older people. (3) But during the holidays, it can be particularly prevalent and severe. After all, the holiday season is a time for togetherness, and if you’re unable to spend time with your friends and family, it can cause feelings of depression.
Have you ever heard the expression, “the dream is better than reality?” That’s particularly true of the holidays. We spend so much time planning to celebrate the holidays and dreaming about how wonderful it will be that reality often doesn’t match the dream. Unfortunately, this often leads to post-holiday letdowns.
Lack of Sleep
A busy holiday season can lead to sleep deprivation, which causes stress. Research suggests that stressful events can lead to depression. (4)
Let’s face it. Holidays can be expensive. According to a Gallup poll, “Americans expect to spend $837 on holiday gifts in 2021.” (5) And that’s just for gifts. There are other costs associated with the holidays. In 2019, for instance, Americans spent $230.00 on non-holiday gift purchases such as food, greeting cards and decorations.” (6) Overextending yourself financially or finding that you can’t afford certain gifts can lead to depression.
Excessive Alcohol Usage
“Eat, drink, and be merry” is a famous phrase for a reason. Unfortunately, for many people, the holidays include a certain amount of alcohol usage. Unfortunately, alcohol is a depressant. So, rather than making you feel “merry,” too much alcohol can trigger feelings of depression.
Difference Between Holiday Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
It might surprise you to learn that the blues you’re feeling may not be holiday-related. Instead, it may be a sign that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The holiday blues occur only during the holidays, while seasonal changes trigger SAD. In most cases, symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder occur in late fall/early winter and recede in spring and summer. Experts believe that a lack of sunshine triggers it. But some people experience this disorder during the spring and summer months.
At any rate, Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to occur and recede at about the same time each year. If you have this disorder, you may want to practice bright light therapy. This involves sitting in front of a special lamp for 30-60 minutes a day during the dark days of winter. Lightbox therapy is an excellent treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Tips for Coping with Holiday Depression
Here are a few tips for coping with holiday depression.
Set Realistic Expectations
Being excited about the holidays is normal and healthy as long as you keep your expectations reasonable and attainable. The truth is, none of us know how the holidays will turn out. After all, the hectic holiday months are famous for family conflict. So if you expect peace and tranquility during Thanksgiving dinner, for instance, you could be sorely disappointed — and depressed.
Instead, leave some room for things not to be so perfect. Your mood and mental health will benefit from this change in attitude.
Budget Your Holiday Funds
To help ease financial stress, you should make your holiday budget well in advance of the season. This gives you time to plan the celebrations and gifts you want to buy for your friends and family and ensures you have the funds to do it.
Don’t Overextend Yourself.
Stress and depression occur when you’re pulled in several different directions. To minimize this pressure, choose your engagements carefully. Decide what you can realistically do, and learn to say “no” to any requests that don’t comfortably fit into your schedule.
This will help ease your anxiety, improve your mood, and make the holiday season enjoyable.
Find Time to Exercise
Though you may not have time to exercise regularly, you must do so during the holidays. Studies show that regular exercise may reduce depressive symptoms(7), as it increases blood flow to the brain and triggers a release of endorphins, the body’s “feel-good hormones.” (8)
Simply taking a brisk 5-10 minute walk can do wonders for your mood.
Form Social Connections
As previously discussed, social isolation can lead to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. So, even if you don’t have friends and family nearby, try to cultivate social connections. For example, take up a hobby to find like-minded souls, join special-interest groups, or volunteer at your local soup kitchen.
This is a great way to make friends that will last a lifetime and alleviate your loneliness during the holidays.
Get Enough Sleep
Make sure to leave time for sleep. Try to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. This will boost your mood and make all your holiday tasks so much easier. Try it!
When to Seek Professional Treatment
If your depression is severe, please don’t hesitate to seek professional treatment. Your primary care physician is an excellent place to start. They can prescribe medications to help pull you out of stress and relieve symptoms of depression.
A Better Way to a Better Holiday Season
How would you like to sail through the holidays with your mental health intact?
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