Coping with Depression During the Holiday Season

During this time of year, radio and TV ads would have us believe we should all feel merry and bright. Sadly, that’s not always the case. According to the National Institute of Health, many people experience depression during the holiday season.

Some of the most common reasons people experience depression during this time of year are:

  • Financial hardship – ‘Tis the season to be jolly, unless your bank account is overdrawn and your credit cards maxed out. Not having a budget to buy loved ones presents, especially our children, can feel devastating.
  • Stress – It’s easy to become overwhelmed from the added stress of shopping, planning and travel. Studies have found this to be particularly true for women.
  • Grief and loneliness – Many people feel incredibly lonely during the holidays. Whether it’s from being single, recently divorced, or having just lost a loved one, the holidays are often a reminder of what we don’t have but wish we did.

If you can relate and are looking for some relief, here are some ways you can cope with your depression this holiday season:

Feel Your Feelings

If you are grieving a loss, it’s important that you’re honest about your feelings. Your instinct may be to put on a brave face for friends and family, but forcing yourself to be happy for the sake of others will only make matters worse. Sadness and grief are a part of life, no matter the season, and it is 100% okay for you to feel your feelings.

Give Something Besides Money

If a lack of finances is the primary source of your mood, look for other ways you can give to others. You can volunteer at a local charity. Are you a good cook? Offer to cook for friends and family. If your talent is writing, write your kids a bedtime story or, if it’s painting, paint a beautiful mural on their wall. At the end of the day, thoughtful gifts from your heart will leave the greatest lasting impression. One of the greatest things of value you have to offer to those you love is your time. If you don’t see your parents or siblings often, plan a day together for quality time rather than focusing on purchasing a gift. Excite your kids by telling them you are giving them a special day where they can choose which creative or imaginative game you can play together, or what adventure you will go on. The possibilities are endless and the value of your time rather than a material gift is priceless, and one which will last much longer than anything you can purchase at a store.

Focus on Self Care

It’s important that you care for yourself during the holiday season. Eat right, drink filtered water, exercise, and get plenty of rest. While these steps are important for everyone throughout the entire year, they are particularly important for those suffering from depression during the holidays. Set aside one day during the season as a self-care day. A day where the only focus is on you. Go to a coffee shop and enjoy a hot chocolate, browse your favorite bookstore, treat yourself to a foot massage, or take a nice quiet walk outdoors. It doesn’t have to be something grand or that costs money. The benefits self-care provides to your stress level and mood are invaluable.

Many of us get caught up in the need to make the holidays perfect.  If you find yourself stuck in this, take a moment to reflect on your expectations, ensuring they are realistic. Even if you are Super-Woman or Super-Man and could feasibly pull off the way you envision things to go in your mind, it comes at a cost… and a high one at that.  You will likely be more stressed and miserable in the process and become overwhelmed during an already stressful time of year. Rather than perfection being your goal, aim for joyful. Seek moments of joy and focus on what is truly important. Is it better to have your home looking perfect, or five different batches of homemade cookies for your holiday gathering OR to be relaxed and present while listening to the laughter of your friends and family? Everyone will have a much better experience when they get to enjoy the relaxed, fully present YOU, versus the stressed, overwhelmed, “perfect” version of you.

One of the keys to caring for yourself during the holidays is mindset. Negative thoughts, unrealistic expectations, and internalized pressure can rob your joy during the season. You get to decide how your holiday will go and you can write the story however you choose. Whether you are experiencing the pain of losing a loved one, heartbreak of a failed relationship, feeling financially strapped, or frustrated with difficult personalities among family members, no one can steal your joy unless you give it to them. Maintain your sense of self, give yourself permission to feel your emotions, keep realistic expectations and let go of internalized pressure, and most of all,  seek joyful moments. Even in chaos or loss, you can find glimpses of joy somewhere if you look hard enough.

Seek Help

Depression is nothing to take lightly. If your depression has lingered, is getting worse, or you’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative that you seek help from a qualified mental health professional. They will be able to help you navigate your overwhelming emotions and offer tools to manage symptoms.

You don’t have to suffer alone.  Speaking with someone who can help you recognize the places that are keeping you stuck and learn strategies to better cope with your emotions can be life changing.  Give yourself the gift of support, validation, and connection with someone where you can safely let your guard down and be heard.

Happy Holidays and however you celebrate, may you experience joy and find peace in your heart!

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or a desire to harm yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911 to access your local emergency room. Help is available and you are not alone. 


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