Although people struggle with depression throughout the year, those feelings often intensify during the holidays and winter season. Occasionally, individuals who don’t normally struggle with depression can also experience the “holiday blues” (more on that soon).
While this time of year offers a chance to celebrate cherished traditions and connect with family and friends, it also brings with it busy schedules, stressful relationship dynamics, and the occasional reminder of loss. Read below to learn why depression is more prevalent this time of year, and discover several ways to cope if you find yourself struggling.
Note: If stressors or negative feelings are interfering with your life, contact Tri-City Medical Center’s Outpatient Behavioral Health unit — and if you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of self-harm, please call the Access & Crisis line at 888-724-7240. You can find more info here.
Why Seasonal Depression?
There are many reasons why depression tends to show up during the winter season. Anxious feelings can intensify for those who already feel low, but challenging emotions can emerge in otherwise healthy individuals as well.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the term “holiday blues” can be defined as “temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations, or even memories that accompany the season.”
Holiday depression often occurs as a result of the following circumstances:
Comparison rears its ugly head now more than ever, as individuals tend to view the activities and plans of others while wondering why they aren’t included. Feelings of loneliness can creep in while witnessing the many parties and gatherings that take place during this time and while these events can sometimes offer inclusion, they occasionally have the opposite effect and cause depressed individuals to withdraw or become closed off.
Holiday months can also bring about acute reminders of lost loved ones. Whereas many families are reconnecting and coming together, there may be an intense void left by a person who is no longer present. Feelings of loss and sadness are often difficult to manage in the midst of so much busyness, joy, and celebration.
While most people expect the holiday season and surrounding times to be jolly and fun, the expectation that they must always be so can be difficult for individuals struggling with depression. Managing these expectations can bring on feelings of tiredness, irritability, sadness, and overwhelm. The intense pressure to keep up with many plans, obligations, and other people can lead the depressed individual to feel like they are failing.
Ways to Cope
While depression may seem like an uphill battle, there are several ways you can cope with tough feelings around the holidays.
Set a Slower Pace
Often, the sheer pace of the winter season is enough to rattle anyone. As you skip from event to party to dinner, don’t be afraid to scale back if you need to. There are many ways to set a slower schedule during this busy time. Create a more manageable daily rhythm by practicing intentionality, foregoing technology, and even practicing intuitive eating.
Let Go of Shame
One of the actions that can make depression worse is to give in to feelings of shame and isolation. Instead, try to maintain an open and honest dialogue with family and friends. Whether this involves explaining why you won’t be able to give a very expensive gift, or why you’re feeling a little down, it can be helpful to include others to the extent that you feel comfortable.
Even in the winter, maintaining an active lifestyle and spending time outside can do wonders for your mental health and focus. Research even shows that 30 minutes of walking three times a week can be as effective as the standard course of antidepressant medication. If you’re feeling cooped up indoors and find that being inside contributes to loneliness or isolation, make some plans that include exercise and fresh air.
If you need help creating your exercise routine, start here.
Stick to a Budget
Financial obligations can lead to stress throughout the year but during the holidays, these costs tend to come in all at once. Psychology Today suggests sticking to a set budget as one way to cope with feeling overwhelmed. Whether this includes gift-giving, food preparation, or hosting, make sure to set a reasonable budget and commit to it to avoid stress from accrued debt after the season is over.
When the holidays roll around, it seems as though everyone wants that picture-perfect holiday. Whenever there is unyielding pressure to stick to traditions and rituals, particularly as families grow and change, the truth is that the “perfect holiday” can be tough to come by — if not downright impossible.
Keep an open mind and an understanding attitude when things don’t go as planned. Practice gratitude, and process your feelings. In doing so, you may even comfort someone else who feels anxious or stressed.
If you are experiencing seasonal depression, consider reaching out to an experienced Tri-City Medical Center affiliated provider if the feelings become unmanageable or overwhelming. We partner with caring, experienced providers who are ready to help you navigate a difficult time of year and to experience healing while doing so.