Holly, jolly, merry and bright are the festive words we hear this time of year. But for many, the holiday season can bring stress, anxiety, loneliness, sadness and even depression.
“This is a very stressful time of year,” said Adeola Adelayo, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Health. “There are a lot of expectations, pressures and demands placed on us, such as shopping, cooking and social and family obligations. It’s also difficult for those who’ve recently lost a loved one.”
These common holiday situations can cause the blues for anyone. But if you have depression, they could make your symptoms worse.
Read on to understand the differences between the holiday blues and depression and ways you can make this season a bit brighter.
Do you have the holiday blues or depression?
Holiday blues and depression may seem alike, but they have some key differences.
Holiday blues are temporary feelings of sadness or stress that often come during the holiday season. It could be because of unrealistic expectations, financial pressures or social obligations.
“With the blues you might still manage your daily activities, but with depression it’s very difficult,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Depression is a clinical diagnosis that needs professional care, while holiday blues might improve on their own or with self-care.”
Clinical depression is a serious mental health condition. Unlike holiday blues linked to a season, depression can stick around for weeks or months.
In some cases, wintertime can trigger a certain kind of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This usually happens in fall and winter with less sunlight but can also occur in spring and summer. Both SAD and depression can share similar symptoms.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression can show up differently for each person. Common signs of depression include:
- Feeling sad, empty or hopeless
- Staying away from friends, hobbies and activities you used to like
- Changes in sleep patterns, like having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Feeling tired all the time
- Feeling worthless or guilt
- Unexplained aches and pains, headaches or stomach issues
- Trouble focusing, making decisions or remembering things
- Thoughts of suicide or death
“If you are going through any of these signs, it’s important to speak with your health care provider or a behavioral health specialist,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Some of these symptoms can be related to other mental health conditions. Getting the right diagnosis will help guide the proper treatment.”
Ways to manage depression during the holidays
Focusing on self-care during the holiday season can be a valuable strategy for managing and preventing stress or depression. Here are some self-care tips that you might find helpful:
- Accept your feelings: It’s okay to feel a bit down during the holidays. Allow yourself to experience those emotions without being hard on yourself. “This process of acceptance shows that what you’re feeling is real and helps you avoid pushing those feelings away,” said Dr. Adelayo. “It allows you to be kinder to yourself.”
- Take care of yourself: Balance the hustle and bustle of holiday activities with some time for yourself. Schedule moments for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, whether it’s a morning hike, a soothing massage or getting lost in a good book.
- Maintain healthy habits: Stick to a regular sleep schedule, eat nutritious meals and engage in regular physical activity. And be sure to take your medicine at the same time every day. “It may be comforting to have a routine – something you can control – during a season that can be very busy and chaotic,” said Dr. Adelayo.
- Set limits: Learn to say “no” and set boundaries to avoid overcommitting yourself. It’s okay to decline invitations or limit the number of social activities if it feels like too much.
- Spend time outdoors: Being in nature gives you a chance to relax, take a break from your indoor routines and enjoy the changing seasons. Whether you go on a nature walk, do some gardening or simply sit in a park, these outdoor activities can positively impact your well-being.
- Connect with others: Have a daily conversation with family and friends. Sharing your feelings and thoughts with them can make a big difference. “Continue to make human connection, especially during the holidays,” said Dr. Adelayo said. “During a time that can be challenging for many, the power of human connection offers hope, understanding and reduces isolation.”
- Plan your spending wisely: Money concerns can add to the holiday blues. Set a practical budget for buying gifts and other holiday expenses to avoid unnecessary financial stress.
- Create your own traditions: Instead of doing what everyone else does, establish traditions that mean something to you. Doing things that bring you joy can help fight feelings of depression.
- Prioritize sobriety: If you’re in recovery, the holiday season can throw a lot of challenges your way. Dedicate time to your recovery program. Attend meetings, stay connected with support groups and be honest with your needs. “If you are new to sobriety, it is okay to decline events where alcohol is served,” said Dr. Adelayo. “Your friends and support network should understand and be there to help you.”
- Get extra support: If you struggle with depression or anxiety, talk to your health care provider or specialist about a holiday plan. This may involve adding extra therapy sessions.
The bottom line
The holidays can be hard for people who are dealing with the holiday blues or depression. Reach out, connect and focus on your mental health.
You can find professional help through many means:
- Contact your health care provider or find a Banner Health specialist.
- Contact the National Depression Hotline at 866-629-4564.
- Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or Banner Behavioral Health at 800-254-4357.