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Why Do We Often Feel More Depressed During The Holidays?

Have you ever heard of the holiday blues? Feeling sad or depressed during the holiday season is common. So common, in fact, that people have nicknamed the phenomenon.

The holiday season can be full of joy, time with family, and celebration. But, it can also be full of stress, expectation, and pressure. Throughout the pandemic, you may have had to adapt your typical holiday traditions. You may have also been stressed about the health and safety of those you love, adding yet another layer of complicated emotion around the holidays.

For those grieving a loss, the holidays can mark a difficult milestone. For those with complicated family dynamics, the holidays may feel incredibly stressful.

For those with a mental health condition like depression, 64% of people report that their symptoms worsen during the holiday season. If you feel more depressed during the holidays, you are not alone.

So, why do we feel more depressed during the holidays?

Huge Expectations

The holidays come with a huge amount of expectation. You may be expected to bake, shop, cook, host your friends and family, wrap the perfect gift, and do it all with a smile. However, it’s likely that you also have to take care of your typical daily responsibilities in the midst of all of these expectations. In short, it’s a lot!

Expectations around the holidays can feel overwhelming. It’s essential to set realistic expectations for yourself as you enter the holiday season and not take on too much.

Financial Expectations

Have you ever spent too much during the holiday season? Unfortunately, overspending during the holiday season is extremely common. A recent study found that 86% of millennials report overspending during the holiday season.

While shopping for friends and family can be fun, it can also set you up for financial stress in the coming months. Overspending can lead to chronic stress about your financial situation well beyond the holiday season, which may exacerbate feelings of depression.

If you have a budget for the holiday season, try your best to stick to it. Avoid impulse purchases. Try to plan your shopping ahead of time to plan how you’d like to allocate your budget. These planning steps may reduce your stress and support you in navigating your depression during the holidays.

Family Expectations

Family time can be difficult for many. You may be reminded of family challenges that have gone on for years or feel triggered by a current conflict. Yet, even in situations where you are not faced with family tension, you may just want some time for yourself.

Family time can come with many opinions about how you choose to celebrate the holiday. You may get unsolicited advice or frustrating feedback about something you’ve made or gifted.

If you find yourself feeling triggered by family expectations this holiday season, you are definitely not alone.

Perfectionism and Expectation

Hallmark holiday movies and social media can give you unrealistic expectations of what your holiday “should” look like. If you find yourself playing the comparison game with holiday decor or gifts you see online, you may be experiencing perfectionism.

Perfectionism can cause immense stress and anxiety. In addition, it may worsen symptoms of depression if you are unable to live up to the perfect expectation you have set. For example, if you plan to be the ideal holiday host and make a mistake, that misstep may feel catastrophic. This pattern of thinking can impact self-esteem and worsen existing depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

In many places, the holiday season is marked by short, dark days. However, if you experience an increase in symptoms of depression during the winter months, you might have heard about seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that typically follows a pattern of the seasons. In winter-patterned SAD, you may feel more depressed during the shorter, colder days. This can coincide with holiday stressors and make your depression feel worse.

SAD might look like:

  • Feeling depressed nearly every day

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Low energy

  • Loss of interest in things you enjoy

  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating

  • Active or passive suicidal ideation

  • Changes in appetite

I Feel More Depressed During the Holidays, What Can I Do?

If you feel more depressed during the holidays, you are not alone. Many people experience increased stressors around family, finances, and expectations during the holiday season. The holidays also coincide with seasonal changes, which can be difficult for some people.

The great news is depression is treatable. Professional mental health providers can support you as your heal from your depression. In addition, tools like individual therapy, support groups, and medication may be helpful as you navigate this challenging time.

You deserve support during the holiday season, and there are many professionals ready to help. At The Mental Health House, we are here for you. Contact us today to learn more.

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