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Coping with Holiday Depression

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The holidays are a time of year when we celebrate all that is hopeful and cheerful. But it can also be a sad or lonely period for those who have experienced loss among family or friends, or a stressful period for those who host or have financial problems.

Factors that can contribute to holiday depression include:

  • Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood
  • Facing the loss of a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays
  • Having unrealistic expectations of family and friends, and trying to be a “perfect” host
  • Having an expectation that you “should” feel good
  • Being away from family and friends; feeling isolated
  • Reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year
  • Coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce
  • Drinking more alcohol, which is often more readily available during the holidays

Some negative emotions around the holiday are normal and should be expected. In fact, it is often good to reflect upon the year past and re-envision new or slightly different paths in moving forward. Normal negative emotions are generally short-term and don’t interfere with functioning.

Rest assured that there are ways to cope with the downsides of the holidays.

Reframing the Holidays

  • Find support. People facing difficult family situations should set aside time to spend with their friends. Spend time with people who care about you.
  • Be around others. Those who feel isolated or alone should take advantage of resources in their community or volunteer their time at a local charity. When we’re focused on others, we get out of our own heads and are present for others.
  • Reflect on the past. Honor and remember loved ones who have passed away.
  • Remember what’s important. Spend some time focusing on family, religious beliefs or traditions.
  • Try something new. Take a vacation with a family member or friend.
  • If you are religious, take time to reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays.
  • Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
  • Stay active. Get out. Go for a walk. Window shop.

Get help if you need it. Anyone who feels pervasively or severely depressed during the holidays should consider talking to a mental health professional. Our professional therapists and psychiatrists can help.


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