Winter holidays can be associated with emotions of loneliness, isolation, bereavement, and melancholy, even for those without clinical depression. This is true despite the brilliant lights and joyous celebration that come with the season. Depression and trauma can lead to other mental health issues, substance abuse issues, financial problems, and more, so addressing depression is imperative.

During the holidays, people think more about their families, relationships, and social interactions. Depression may manifest if there are problems with these patterns in our life. Additionally, spending more time with family during this time of year may resurrect old grudges and feelings, which can be difficult to handle. Those who are mourning the loss of a loved one may find the holidays to be particularly trying.

Regardless of melancholy, these typical Christmas settings can be rather trying. They might exacerbate your symptoms if you do have depression, but not every bad emotion experienced over the holidays equates to depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), transitory or situational anxiety or depression over the winter holidays (sometimes referred to as “the holiday blues”) is actually rather prevalent. According to NAMI, if you have the Christmas blues, you may experience brief feelings of exhaustion, tension, frustration, loneliness, or melancholy throughout the winter months.

However, according to the American Psychiatric Association, clinical depression, which is thought to impact 6.7% of adult Americans, persists over time. Its symptoms interfere with your capacity to perform properly and linger longer than two weeks. Among them are the following:

  • Sadness or a low state of mind
  • Loss of enthusiasm for once-enjoyed activities
  • Alterations in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
  • Finding it difficult to focus or make decisions
  • Suicidal ideas or behaviors

Additionally, seasonal affective disorder—a specific type of depression—may be triggered by the winter for some individuals. Depression of this kind typically follows a seasonal pattern, becoming worse in the shorter, darker winter months and getting better in the longer, brighter spring days. You should speak with a mental health professional about your experiences if any of these symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks.

Managing Depression Throughout the Holiday Season

Regardless of the reason for your depressive state or bad emotions, you may prepare for and navigate the upcoming holiday season while managing your melancholy by arming yourself with constructive coping mechanisms. While taking care of oneself is vital at all times, the holidays make it even more crucial. In light of this, the following five expert-recommended tactics are:

1. Continue Moving and Go Outside

During any season, including the holidays, moving your body is one of the finest, scientifically proven ways to deal with depression. Kim Harrison, MSW, LCSW also recommends getting a sunlamp to use during the day. As winter light wanes a sunlamp can elevate your mood by giving you much needed Vitamin D during the limited sunlight hours of winter.

2. Express Your Emotions To Reliable, Loved People

Holiday depression can be managed by surrounding yourself with dependable people, whether they be family or friends. When you confide in your loved ones, they might listen to you with empathy, share their own experiences to make you feel less alone, or even recommend other resources for assistance that you might not be aware of. Never undervalue the kindness and strength found in your local community.

3. Evaluate Your Connections and Establish Boundaries

Keep an eye on your feelings toward the many individuals in your life and establish appropriate limits. This could entail setting boundaries for your interactions and availability to certain people, as well as minimizing the amount of time you spend with them over the holidays if they make you feel depressed or worsen your symptoms. Learning how to create boundaries can be aided by a mental health professional.

4. Giving Back During the Christmas Season

One potential holiday-time coping strategy for depression is volunteering. According to a 2021 study, volunteering for just one to ten hours per month or two to three hours per week can have a variety of positive effects on mental health, including:

Your ability to dedicate time, your level of comfort with certain activities, and the causes you are passionate about will all play a role in helping you choose the ideal volunteer assignment.

5. Put together a Depression Toolkit or Coping Sheet

A coping sheet is a list of things you enjoy doing that you can do to cheer yourself up when you’re down. You can work with your therapist, your family, or alone to construct one. It may consist of items such as writing, confident self-talk, listening to music, going for a walk, taking a bath, or playing a favorite game.

When to Get Depression Help

Self-help techniques seldom work by themselves, even though they could make depression easier to live with. For long-term improvement, a mental health professional’s psychotherapy is required, sometimes in addition to medicines.

In particular, if you exhibit any of the following symptoms of severe depression, you should get care right away:

  • Extreme social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts of other self harm
  • Substance abuse issues

Mady Rodriguez, Discharge Planner WMC-Valley Health, says, “Substance abuse is the biggest need in our area currently and this tends to increase during this time of year.”

Mady also shared “I think it’s important to recognize that someone seeking help may ask but not be actually ready to get help, so you need to be ready for failed attempts and saying/providing the same info/support over and over again. Being able to connect an individual to a provider is just one step of the battle. But when a person is truly ready for the journey it’s very fulfilling to see the positive impact that therapy and support can do.”

Local Resources:

Northwestern Community Services: 540-667-8888
Concern Hotline: 540-667-0145
The Laurel Center: 540-667-6466
Dept of Social Services: 540-662-3807
Sinclair Health Clinic: 540-536-1680