For some, the holiday season doesn’t end up feeling like the most wonderful time of the year after all. Instead, it can trigger difficult feelings like sadness, stress, anxiety, and depression.
According to Healthline, depression is more common during the holidays than at other times. Whether it’s a temporary bout of the holiday blues or a more serious depression that’s been simmering beneath the surface, here are a few common reasons why the holidays aren’t always cheerful—and what you can do to help yourself if you’re experiencing the blues.
Why the holidays aren’t always jolly
When the holidays don’t bring good cheer, what could be the reason? Some of the most common culprits are:
For some people, daily life already feels stressful due to financial, work, family, or health issues. As a result, the holidays might feel burdensome rather than manageable. The pressure to buy gifts despite a limited budget, attend or give holiday parties, or spend long hours with family members might create feelings of anxiety and tension, or lead to depression.
Grief and loss
For those who have recently lost a loved one, grief can be especially strong during the holidays. Even though grief is a universal experience, not everyone grieves in the same way, so navigating this experience isn’t always easy.
Sometimes people find themselves spending a lot more time with certain family members over the holidays than at other times of the year. If certain relationships are tense, negative feelings can result.
If a person lives far away from close friends and family, or has a small social circle with few opportunities for socializing, they might end up spending the holidays alone. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially when it seems like everyone else is together.
Tips for Coping with the Blues
Even if you can’t get rid of the holiday blues entirely, here are some tips for managing stress and reducing difficult feelings during the holiday season.
Set good boundaries
It’s ok to stick to a budget with gift giving. If you aren’t able to buy presents, consider writing a thoughtful letter about someone’s role in your life, giving your time, or coming up with another free gift idea such as one of those found here.
And remember that you don’t need to host or attend holiday functions if you don’t want to.
Say goodbye to perfect
Don’t accept any one representation of the “perfect” holiday season, whether it’s from the media, an institution, or a person. Lower your expectations, be present with your own experience, and try to enjoy each moment as much as you can.
Take care of grief
If you’re experiencing grief, pay close attention to whether you need to be with people or in solitude. If you socialize, drive your own car so that you’ll have an out if you don’t feel up for the event or need to leave early.
If you want to be around people in a different setting than a party, consider a community workshop for those going through a similar experience.
Attend to the basics
Be sure you’re eating well, drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough restorative sleep, and moving your body—even if it’s just walking around the block or stretching. Sleeping well can help you better tolerate a spectrum of emotions.
Helping others can foster feelings of connection and purpose, and help boost mood. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, try some of the following ideas:
- Use a site like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, or All for Good.
- Call your local Meals on Wheels.
- Get a list of local homeless shelters from United Way and call to find out if they need help.
- Contact local hospice organizations to find out if they need help with meal delivery or other services during the holidays.
- Call senior centers or hospitals near you and ask if you can drop off holiday cards to residents.
By practicing strategies like the ones listed here, the holidays might begin to feel more manageable—and hopefully even enjoyable. But if you still can’t shake your sadness, call your doctor, who can refer you to a counselor for additional support.