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Caring for Your Mental Health During the Holidays

Many people feel a dip in their mental health as the holiday season approaches. This is partly due to the limited sunlight from winter and partly due to loneliness. If you are someone who gets depressed during the holidays, keep reading to understand what seasonal depression is and tips to maintain a good mental state so you can enjoy your holiday season.

Key Takeaways

Many people experience a mental health crisis during the holiday season. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Depression rates rise during the holiday season.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder is commonly experienced in winter due to lack of sunlight.
  • Being overwhelmed by stress from the holidays can cause depression.
  • There are proactive solutions to help you or a loved one who experiences depression during the holidays.

Haven Health Management understands the holidays can be tough. Keep reading to learn how to manage your seasonal depression.

Depression Rates Rise During The Holidays

Doctors have documented patterns of increased depression rates during the holidays for several years now. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent of people who battle mental illness report that their conditions are worse during the holidays. 

So you are probably wondering why this happens. This is because the holiday season comes with lots of events, social interactions, and challenges, which can cause stress. Sometimes, the stress can play a part in the pressure people feel from all the responsibilities they have or need to do. Other times, it can bring up complex memories from a person’s past or produce anxiety about family gatherings.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Explained

Aside from the holidays, many people who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) often battle with a seasonal pattern known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This seasonal disorder is a form of clinical depression that often affects people towards the end of fall and can last until the beginning of spring. 

The reason why Seasonal Affective Disorder typically appears from fall to spring is because the disorder is linked to the changes in the sunlight during wintertime. The condition is more common in northern climates due to the lack of sunlight during the day. 

Our body rhythms and neurochemical balance are regulated by exposure to natural light. This limited exposure in winter can cause depression because days seem shorter, darkness lasts longer, and the cold weather can keep you staying indoors. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, research shows that clinical depression with a seasonal pattern affects 6 percent of the population. It is even common for people who don’t normally suffer from depression but experience it temporarily during winter. 

Causes Of Depression During The Holidays

Holidays are known to be the most cheerful time of the year. However, when someone is not feeling cheerful during the holiday season, it is often because they feel isolated with their feelings, which can cause them depression.

The celebration and unity for holiday months are different for everyone, and depending on a person’s personal circumstances can often lead to them being stressed or sad. Here are some of the most frequent causes that lead to depression during the holiday season. 

  • Generalized stress, such as responsibilities, increased social interactions, and less time to unwind and relax
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Pressures from obligations that may be related to travel, shopping and gifting presents, and meal planning
  • High expectations that are usually caused by over-the-top perceptions of what holidays should look like on TV, movies, and social media
  • Travel stress stemming from busy airports and heavy traffic that may cause jet lag
  • Intense and stressful family gatherings
  • The first holiday season from the passing of a loved one
  • Loneliness and isolation 
  • Disappointment from not being able to see family and friends due to personal circumstances or situations
  • Pandemic isolation due to the worries of safety from gatherings

Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder During Holidays

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are related to the symptoms of depression. Here are some common symptoms when experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder around the holidays.

  • Fatigue
  • Not able to enjoy holiday activities that you enjoyed doing in the past.
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt, hopelessness, purposeless
  • Change in personal relationships
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Change in appetite that can show in weight loss or weight gain
  • Being indecisive when decision making
  • Lack of concentration when focus is required for tasks
  • Being irritable or restless
  • Having thoughts or actions for self-harm

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be related to the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, mainly consisting of a seasonal pattern. Because the holiday season comes with its own form of stress and expectations, it is common for people to feel overwhelmed by the holidays and experience depression. 

Tips To Help A Loved One That Struggles With Holiday Depression

There are several ways to help and support a loved one who experiences depression during the holiday season. Here are some ways that may help.

Check In With Family And Friends

It is important to check in even if your loved one seems to be doing well. This is because people often hide their emotions when feeling anxious or depressed. When battling these emotions, your loved one can benefit from expressing their feelings when they are not in a good mental or emotional place. 

When someone reaches out, it reminds the person who is depressed that they are being supported and acknowledged in other people’s lives and do not feel so alone. 

Listen With Sympathy

It is important to know that you do not have to understand what someone feels; you only need to respect the way they feel. Letting someone show and express their feelings in a safe space can be impactful when a person is experiencing depression. 

When responding to them, respond with supportive and positive statements. For example, you always want to avoid statements like “things could be worse.” These kinds of statements can make a person feel invalidated or minimized by what they are feeling and can cause them to isolate even more.

Softly Suggesting Professional Help

You can gently encourage your loved one to meet with a mental health professional who can help them. These professionals can assess and evaluate someone to determine exactly what a person needs to get better. These professionals can offer tools and solutions for the long-term that will help a person manage stress, depression, and other emotions so that they can be happy and enjoy the holiday season.

Tips For Yourself When Experiencing Holiday Depression

You can take care of your mental health during the holiday season in several ways. Try out these tips and see which ones work best for you and make a difference in the way you feel. 

Setting Realistic Expectations

Try to ask yourself if you are expecting too much from yourself or from someone else. Then, check and see how those expectations make you feel. Ask yourself, “Are these expectations helpful or stressful?”

Saying ‘No’

You are only one person, and there’s only so much you can do. If the responsibilities and obligations are more than what you can handle, it is okay to say no. There is no need to overwhelm yourself to the point that it causes stress and depression. 

Limit Holiday Pressure From External Sources

It can be helpful to take a break from social media. Sometimes, seeing holiday photos from other people can cause you to compare yourself and your circumstances to them and their holiday. Instead, look for winter activities that you enjoy by yourself or others unrelated to holiday activities. Examples of these activities can be winter camping, playing in the snow, or even simply enjoying some hot chocolate in front of a campfire.


Make sure to keep up with your routine. Routine helps you cope and limit stress. For example, if you enjoy working out, keep working out. If spending time with friends and family helps, connect with them frequently. It is important to set time for yourself and to also be open-minded in experiencing new self-care strategies. 

Talking To A Mental Health Professional

A professional can help you manage anxious or depressed emotions. If you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, a therapist can show you lifestyle changes that can help relieve you from your symptoms in order to enjoy the holiday season.