Holiday Depression or Holiday Blues refer to feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, low moods and rumination during the holiday season, despite the sufferer’s religious affiliation.
What Is Holiday Depression?
The holidays are a time for joy, inspiration and connection with loved ones. However, for some people this season, specifically November and December, can lead to sadness and self-reflection. Although limited data is available on this phenomenon, holiday depression, also known as holiday blues, is a reaction to stress and anxiety, according to research 1.
Anticipation and high expectations 2 associated with the holiday season can be exceptionally high, which can often lead to significant stress, anxiety, disappointment, regret and unhappiness. Moreover, some people experience serious loneliness and isolation during this time which can cause negative moods and emotions. Rumination and reflection about past holidays can also contribute to holiday depression. However, such feelings of uneasiness are typically temporary and tend to pass naturally in individuals without any psychological disorders. When left unaddressed, the symptoms of this phenomenon can worsen and cause severe anxiety and major depression.
People with existing mental illness are more prone to experiencing the holiday blues and should seek professional help. It should also be noted that the holiday blues are separate from clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder 3.
Read More About Major Depressive Disorder (Depression) Here
Holiday Depression At A Glance
- Holiday Depression, also known as the holiday blues, are feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and rumination during the holiday season.
- It is observed during the months of November and December, mainly during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and the symptoms typically reduce naturally.
- Holiday depression occurs due to extreme stress, financial burden, unrealistic expectations and past memories associated with the holiday season.
- Medications like antidepressants and psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may be recommended by a doctor for treatment along with self-help strategies.
- Holiday Depression is different from clinical depression or seasonal affective disorder (winter depression).
Symptoms Of Holiday Depression
Persistent feelings of despair and sadness throughout the holiday season are the most common signs of this condition. However, each person may experience holiday depression differently with varying duration and intensity. Here are some other common signs and symptoms observed in people suffering from the holiday blues:
- Stress and anxiety or worry
- Depression or persistent low mood
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Lack of motivation or energy
- Isolation and loneliness
- Frustration or irritability
- Changes in appetite, weight and sleep
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Guilt or feelings of worthlessness
- Trouble concentrating
- Inability to enjoy pleasure activities
- A sense of loss or grief 4
- Lethargy or laziness
Read More About Stress Here
Causes Of Holiday Depression
Holiday depression refers to temporary depression or anxiety that occurs during the holidays, mainly Thanksgiving, Christmas 5 and New Year’s Eve, and is related to extreme stress, financial burden, unrealistic expectations and past memories associated with the holiday season. Onset can occur due to multiple reasons, some of which are mentioned below:
1. Unrealistic Expectations
Having or trying to meet unreasonable expectations 6 of loved ones can often be one of the primary causes of holiday depression. Unrealistic and fantasy-driven expectations 7 about Christmas can only lead to disappointment as it not only puts excessive burden on family members to meet such demands, but also makes one lose touch with the true reality of the holiday season. Studies 8 show that attempts to meet others’ unrealistic expectations can affect our mental and physical health-related quality of life (HRQL). Although being hopeful and positive is the main essence of the holidays, being excessively hopeful or having toxic positivity can lead to the holiday blues, stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, as the holidays have become highly commercialized, most of us are led to believe that the holidays should make us constantly feel cheerful and happy. However, this pressure to feel the holiday cheer can lead to additional stress and frustration.
2. Rumination And Reflection
Many people become prone to reflect and ruminate about their lives, their past and the year as the holidays are associated with the beginning of a new year. This can often lead to mixed feelings like a sense of accomplishment or failure, regret, disappointment, grief etc. One 2013 study 9 has found that rumination is positively associated with anxiety and depression. The study adds “Self-reported stressful life events were associated positively with rumination and with symptoms of anxiety and depression.” During the holidays many individuals evaluate their success and failures and how well they are able to achieve their goals.
Moreover, some people may become increasingly aware of losing a loved one which may make them ruminate about the past, making them experience the holiday blues or holiday depression.
Studies 10 reveal that loneliness and social isolation are closely linked to depression, particularly during the holidays. According to a recent 2020 study 11 , spending less time in social settings, interacting less with friends, or spending more time with similarly depressed people can cause depressive symptoms. Being away from family and friends, missing a deceased loved one or being alone during the holidays can easily affect someone’s mental and emotional well-being. In fact, researchers 12 have found that Christmas can be a lonely time for many people.
4. Financial Stress
Holiday spending can bring about extreme financial stress which can contribute to the development of the holiday blues. Although most people plan for the holiday spending, they often tend to go over budget and financially struggle to buy gifts for their loved ones. Financial pressure can also make individuals worry that they might go into debt due to holiday spending. Although most of the time financial stress during the holidays is self-imposed, it can result from lack of proper planning, extreme focus on material gifts, competition, commitments and high social expectations. All these can lead to or worsen depressive symptoms in someone during this season. Studies 13 show that “the sharp increase in consumption over the holiday season,” not only has serious economic implications, but significantly affects our mental health as well.
Apart from these, other reasons may include the following-
- Excessive drinking
- Lack of sleep
- Family obligations
Diagnosis Of Holiday Depression
As the condition is not officially recognized as a mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are no specific tests or diagnostic tools to analyze the symptoms of holiday depression. However, talking to a mental health professional can help you determine the intensity of your symptoms and develop a probable treatment plan. Your doctor may recommend certain tests to make sure the symptoms are not caused by any other underlying psychiatric disorder or health issues.
Treatment Of Holiday Depression
There is no specific treatment for the holiday blues as it is not identified as a mental illness by doctors. However, if someone is suffering from clinical depression or seasonal affective disorder, then a doctor may prescribe certain medications like antidepressants and recommend psychotherapy interventions, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 14.
Holiday depression is primarily treated with some coping techniques 15 and self-help strategies, which may involve social support and lifestyle modifications. However, if such strategies do not provide the required solution, then the doctor may recommend CBT to help you identify negative thought and behavior patterns and replace them with more positive ones. It can also help to improve one’s communication skills and lead to better stress management.
How To Cope With The Holiday Blues
Here are a few self-help strategies 16 that can help you deal with holiday depression and overcome the stress associated with the holiday season:
1. Limit Alcohol Intake
Avoid excessive drinking during the holiday season as alcohol can act as a depressant and adversely affect your mood. Although you don’t need to go completely dry, simply make sure to drink in moderation. By limiting alcohol consumption to one or two drinks, you will be better able to regulate your emotions.
2. Avoid Self-Isolation
Isolating yourself during the holidays can make your holiday depression even worse, especially if you live far away from your family. Even if going back home for Christmas may not be a possibility, reach out to your friends and coworkers or volunteer for a cause you believe in.
3. Be Assertive And Don’t Hesitate To Say ‘No’
Establish strong personal boundaries and learn to stay strong on your decisions by learning to say “no”. Make yourself and your needs a priority to avoid the holiday blues. Turn down unreasonable demands and understand that it’s okay to refuse invites to some holiday gatherings or parties. Know your own limits, stay within your budget and avoid overcommitting.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
Have expectations that are practical and reachable. Instead of trying to make everyone happy through materialistic possessions, focus on building and nurturing relationships. Instead of going for a picture-perfect holiday, focus on spending more time with your loved ones and enjoying the holiday season.
5. Make Time For Yourself
Although the holidays are about being with our loved ones, it is also important to find some time for our own needs. Engage in healthy self-care practices like doing yoga, taking a relaxing warm bath, getting a massage, reading a good book, listening to your favorite music or simply spending some alone time with yourself. Doing simple things that you enjoy can significantly help you in relaxing and reducing your stress, anxiety and depression levels.
Here are some other ways to deal with the holiday blues –
- Get physically active and exercise regularly
- Don’t depend on substances for relief
- Build a healthy lifestyle, like eating nutritious food and getting enough sleep
- Prepare for the holidays well in advance
- Acknowledge and accept your emotions
- Seek help from family and friends when mourning a deceased loved one
- Avoid overeating
- Do things you enjoy
- Consult a therapist
Read More About Time Management Here
Holiday depression can be a terrible and devastating feeling experienced during the months of November and December. However, it is a short-term condition and the symptoms tend to go away naturally with time. But if you are unable to cope with the symptoms yourself, talking to a mental health professional is always advised as they can better equip you to deal with the stress and anxiety associated with the holiday season.
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