When the Holidays Aren’t Fun: Getting Through the Holidays with Depression

In theory, the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, merriment, and togetherness. In reality, as many of us are all too well aware, it can be a time of intense stress. In fact, many global medical institutions issue special guidelines on remaining calm in the midst of logistical nightmares, shopping frustrations, and family meltdowns [1]. Certain jobs – retail, for example-  also become exponentially more stressful during the holiday season [2]. However, some of us suffer from more than passing stresses and frustrations during the holidays. This season can be an especially tough time for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses; those who are challenged with depression or anxiety disorders may well find themselves overwhelmed as December draws on. This is the shadowy side of the bright, festive delights of Christmas. If you or a loved one struggle with depression or other such problems around Christmas time, here are a few suggestions which may help you to stay strong.

Understand the Problem

There are many reasons why depression and depressive disorders spike at Christmas. Christmas is an emotionally loaded holiday, and the emphasis that we put upon fellowship and togetherness at this time tends to highlight by contrast the situation (real or perceived) of someone who feels unwanted, unloved, alone, or otherwise socially isolated. For those who are surrounded by others, the enforced domesticity (and liberal topping up of glasses) at Christmas can draw out family tensions. Financial stresses put an additional strain on fraying nerves. And then there’s the fact that, for many of us, the holidays happen during a dark and cold season. A lack of sunlight can bring on a naturally-induced depressive state known as Seasonal Affective Disorder [3] which, when combined with the other pressures of the holidays, can make for a profoundly miserable mindset.

If you find yourself getting sad and/or stressed over the Christmas season, take a moment to try and pinpoint the source of the problem. Naming an emotion can, surprisingly, make it easier to control and even to overcome [4]. If you can’t think of a reason why you’re miserable, don’t worry. That simply means that you’ll need to find another way of managing your troubles. It may be that you’re suffering from a biochemical imbalance and could benefit from professional help. With professional help, you should begin to recover your sense of well-being.

Avoid Unnecessary Stress

Avoiding stress is easier said than done. During the holidays, many of us go way out of our way to try and ensure that everything goes smoothly. Many of us may feel that we have to go to these lengths, no matter how stressful it becomes, because the holidays simply would not work in their accustomed manner if we did not. However, it’s well worth taking a deep breath and stepping back from tasks and traditions that bring more stress than joy. Stress-related illnesses spike during Christmas [5], and it’s a peak time for those with anxiety disorders to experience a flare-up of their symptoms [6]. If you’re finding that certain aspects of the holidays are making you unreasonably stressed or unhappy, don’t be afraid to take a step back. Talk to your loved ones about this issue and the way it is making you feel. Hopefully, they’ll be supportive, and help take some of your burden off your shoulders, or assure you that they’d rather you were happy during the holidays than struggling with an overwhelming burden of stress.

Know that You’re Not Alone

It’s quite common for people who are depressed during the holidays to feel tremendously isolated in comparison to the joy and sense of togetherness that is happening all around them. For these people, it may help to know that they are in no way abnormal. A large proportion of us find the holidays tough [7], so you are certainly not out of sync with the world in this instance! Try voicing your frustrations and sadness with others. You may well find that your loved ones have a good deal of sympathy with your position and will share issues of their own in return. This may help you to keep connected with the human reality out there and not sink beneath the weight of the pressure.

Connect with Others

If you feel that you need help in order to defeat the seasonal blues, give us a call and we will discuss options for counseling. You can contact Pinnacle Counseling at (479) 282-2443. If you are spending Christmas at home alone, that is absolutely fine. You should not feel obliged to spend it with anyone else, and you should neither be judged by others nor judge yourself if you are by yourself during the festive season. However, if you truly want to spend time with others but feel you cannot, do your best to rectify the situation. This may involve asking friends or family if they have space at their table. It may involve heading to one of many projects which open their doors to lonely people at Christmas. It may be as simple as heading to social media and sharing some Christmas cheer online. You could even just write down your seasonal thoughts – writing can often have the same kind of effect as human communication can on a brain, and it is an incredibly cathartic activity. Whatever you do, don’t let loneliness and depression defeat you, and remember that we are here to help.


[1] NHS, “Keep calm at Christmas”

[2] Aaron Guerrero, “The Holiday Hustle: How Stressed-Out Retail Workers Find Balance”, U.S. News, Dec 2012

[3] Royal College of Psychiatrists, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)”

[4] Tony Schwartz, “The Importance of Naming Your Emotions”, The New York Times, Apr 2015

[5] Robert A Kloner, “The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon”, American Heart Association, Journal of Circulation, 2004

[6] PsychGuides, “Anxiety Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects”

[7] Lamiat Sabin, “Nearly one in two men feel depressed over Christmas, survey reveals”, The Independent, Dec 2014


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