Many people look forward to the magic of the holiday season all year. But it’s also a time of year that can bring challenging emotions. If you’re lonely, grieving, struggling financially, or already battling clinical depression, you’re less likely to feel merry and bright throughout the holidays.

Maybe you don’t have much extra spending money buying gifts becomes more of a burden than a joy. Perhaps you dread getting together with certain family members due to a strained relationship. Or maybe you don’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle due to already looming feelings of anxiety and seasonal depression.

You’re not alone. According to one study, roughly 38% of Americans feel their stress levels increase during the holiday season. Even more surprisingly, this same American Psychological Association study found that only 8% of Americans feel happier during the holidays.

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Common Causes of Depression During the Holiday Season

There’s no one cause of holiday depression. There are plenty of reasons leading to a melancholy feeling during what society constantly promotes as “the most wonderful time of the year.”


Man with depression


First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that dealing with depression during the holidays doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Holiday depression often goes well beyond just feeling a little sad. Depression is a serious mental health concern that significantly benefits from professional help and positive self-care.


And again, 38% of people in our country are in the same shoes as you. So you’re definitely not an anomaly if you can’t seem to muster up joy and excitement during the holidays.


Here are the most common things that could lead to depression during the holiday season.

  • Stress: Remember that alarming 38% statistic we gave you above? That’s millions of Americans who feel overwhelmed and stressed with the obligations of the holidays, and for good reason. Not only do you continue to deal with your regular everyday responsibilities, but you also get holiday errands, parties, to-dos, and events to deal with. No wonder more people feel stressed! And with stress comes increased cortisol levels, sleeping challenges, and maybe even an increase in alcohol consumption. If you’re at risk for depression already, these side effects of stress are a recipe for depression during the holidays.


  • Grief: Whether you’re going through your first holiday season with an empty seat at the dinner table or it’s been vacant for a while, grieving the loss of a loved one can most definitely lead to holiday depression.


  • Loneliness: Celebrating the holidays alone can be devastating, especially when you’re used to being surrounded by loved ones. This is a big problem for older single adults, when mobility and health concerns may make it challenging to visit loved ones.


  • Money woes: Finances can be stressful on their own. But during the holidays, your wallet gets more exercise than at other times of the year. Even though we all know the holidays aren’t about giving gifts, they can still make you feel sad and guilty when you can’t afford to buy presents for people you love.


  • SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health condition affecting roughly 5% of Americans yearly. SAD can occur any time during the year but is more common during the colder, bleary months that tend to fall around the holidays.


  • Relationship issues: Newly separated or divorced couples and their children are bound to struggle with increased stress and anxiety during the holidays, and that could lead to symptoms of depression. Or perhaps you’re not speaking to certain friends and family members, so seeing them at holiday gatherings, or avoiding them altogether, can lead to sadness, resentment, guilt, and depression.

You’re not choosing to feel sad, guilty, anxious, or stressed. Again, depression is a mental illness. While the holidays are touted as a time of cheer and happiness, it’s okay if that’s not the case with you. The good news is that there are things you can do to help combat those feelings, so you can have a better shot at enjoying the holiday season.


Woman with Santa hat and depression


7 Helpful Tips for Dealing With Depression This Holiday Season

You don’t have to simply try to muddle through the holiday season while battling depression. You can make practical changes in your activities, thinking, and self-care routine to make this time of year easier. (And you may want to try using these tips all year!)

  • Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself

Hollywood, social media and the Hallmark channel set a somewhat unrealistic and unattainable ideal for what the holidays should be like. Getting caught up in what you think you “should” be doing or feeling is easy. Instead, examine yourself and determine what is doable for you and what isn’t.

Set small goals for yourself rather than try for the greeting card type of holiday. Maybe you order takeout for Thanksgiving rather than cooking. Or perhaps you don’t feel like dragging all of your decorations out this year. That’s okay. Your mental health is much more important. If you don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you’ll be more likely to enjoy your holidays.

  • Say No

There’s no doubt about it. With the holidays comes a full and often overwhelming schedule. There’s no rule that says you must attend all social gatherings, send out holiday cards, or keep up with annual traditions. Saying no to things that just aren’t serving you this holiday season can go a long way in helping you battle depression and overwhelm.

  • Volunteer

Doing something nice for others, especially during the holidays, can be extremely rewarding. Helping those less fortunate is a great way to gain perspective and help you feel a sense of connection and fulfillment.

  • Start a New Tradition

You don’t have to do the same thing year after year during the holiday season. One way to deal with depression during the holidays is by trying a new way to celebrate. Rather than staying home doing the same thing you always do, plan a little getaway.

Or rather than stressing about the holiday dinner menu, you have a potluck. Starting a new tradition can be fun and exciting, and it takes a lot of pressure off of you so that you can enjoy the season a little more.

  • Make Time for Yourself

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Well, if you’re battling depression during the holiday season, this is especially crucial. Rather than focusing on doing everything you think you “should” be doing (see tip #1), make yourself a priority.


Woman reading book in front of fire


Book a massage, take a day or two off of work or even make a point of taking a walk every lunch break. Whatever it is, taking time for yourself is always a great way to improve your mood.

  • Stick to a Healthy Diet

Everyone knows that holiday gatherings often come with a plethora of food and drinks. But overeating and imbibing a little too much won’t help your depression symptoms. In fact, eating too many treats and drinking a lot of alcohol often has the opposite effect.

  • Get Help

Getting help from a mental health professional is one of the best things you can do for yourself when facing depression during the holiday season. If you feel overwhelmed with sadness, grief, or anxiety, a mental health professional can help you navigate the holidays and beyond.

Get Experienced, Compassionate Mental Health Services in Minnesota at Nexus of Hope

Battling depression during the holiday season is no easy task. But you don’t have to do it alone. Even if you have a wonderfully-supportive network of family and friends, adding support from a professional can be highly beneficial.

Our team of experienced nurse practitioners can help you navigate the challenges of grief, depression, stress, and anxiety during the holiday season. We provide high-quality psychiatric care in person at our Lakeville office and can also support you from anywhere in Minnesota via our safe and secure teletherapy option.

Don’t wait until holiday depression overwhelms you. Contact our team of clinicians today to find out how our comprehensive mental health services in Minnesota can help you enjoy this holiday season.

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