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Navigating Holiday Depression : Understanding and Coping with Seasonal Depression

When we think about the holiday season, we immediately imagine big smiles all around surrounded by red and golden decorations and the loving company of family and friends. However, for many people, the holiday season can also be a trigger for depression due to a number of reasons. Also known as seasonal depression, this type of depression is much more common than what most people think. Holiday depression can be even more overwhelming for those who have existing mental health conditions. Read on to find out about how to deal with holiday depression.

Understanding the Symptoms of Holiday Depression

The most common sign of holiday depression is a feeling of persistent or extreme sadness. Even in people who may or may not be having existing depression, they may begin to feel a recurring feeling of sadness right around the time the holiday season is about to begin. This feeling tends to vary in duration and intensity, and while some people may feel depressed occasionally interchanged with feelings of happiness, but most people tend to feel low for a prolonged period of time.(123)

You might be experiencing seasonal depression if you feel like you have lost interest in doing even the simplest of activities. This includes your daily tasks like getting out of bed, cooking food, exercising, or meeting with people. Some of the other symptoms of holiday blues include:(4)

  • Having trouble focusing
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feeling irritable or depressed
  • Persistent feelings of being worthless
  • Feeling anxious, tense, or worried

It is important to realize, though, that holiday blues or holiday depression is not a recognized mental health condition according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the prescribed manual used by clinicians to diagnose psychiatric disorders. However, this does not in any way mean that you should not consult a doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and determine what is the underlying issue.(5)

Navigating Holiday Depression : Understanding and Coping with Seasonal Depression

There are many things that trigger holiday blues. It can be something simple such as having to meet too many family and friends, or it can stem from a deeper emotional need. No matter what the cause of your holiday depression is, it is possible to deal with your feelings and start afresh.

Navigating Holiday Depression : Understanding and Coping with Seasonal Depression

Here are some ways to deal with holiday depression:

  1. Restrict Your Intake of Alcohol

    The first thing to know about drinking alcohol, even if socially, is that the more you drink, the more it will aggravate your depression. This is why it is best to limit your alcohol intake if you are suffering from the holiday blues. At the same time, make a conscious effort to not have it readily available in the house. If you are going to a holiday party where you know alcohol will be available, make sure to restrict yourself to only one or two drinks. Drinking too much will not only affect your mood and make you more irritable, but it will also aggravate the negative feelings you have been experiencing during the holiday season.(67)

    In fact, alcohol use and depression are two health conditions that usually occur together. And one can actually worsen the other and creates a cycle that will quickly become problematic if not acknowledged and treated. This is why you should always avoid using alcohol as a means to deal with difficult emotions.(8)

  2. Avoid Isolating Yourself

    When you are feeling down, the last thing you would want to do is to meet others and socialize. However, social isolation can quickly become a major risk factor for those who have holiday depression. The issue is that persistent sadness can make you want to isolate yourself at home. The fact is that you remain on your own, away from your family and friends during the holidays, and it will make it all the more challenging to reach out and find social support to help you deal with your depression.

    Instead, you should look for some way in which you can enjoy certain social interactions, even if that means having to get out of the house. If you are feeling lonely, it might be a good idea to call a friend over instead of heading over to a crowded party where you can quickly start feeling overwhelmed. Volunteering at something you believe in, joining a local club or activity, or even seeking support and help from a counselor can help.

  3. Don’t Neglect Your Sleep

    It is important to ensure that you don’t get so caught up in the holiday festivities that you start neglecting your sleep schedule. People who suffer from holiday depression should try to go to bed at the same time every night. When you are well-rested, it will improve your mood, help you feel less irritable, and also make you feel more confident to face the day.

    It is necessary to understand that there is a close association between sleep and depression. For example, people who don’t get enough sleep or have insomnia, have nearly ten times the risk of developing depression as compared to those who get a good night’s sleep.(910)

  4. Exercise Regularly

    During the holiday season, it might be challenging to follow a strict workout schedule, especially when you are feeling depressed. However, studies have shown that regular exercise can play a key role in preventing and also reducing the symptoms of depression.(11) In fact, exercise is the best all-natural treatment to fight holiday depression.

    It is believed that exercising regularly, even if only for ten minutes a day, can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety during the holiday season as it releases the feel-good endorphins in the body that boost your sense of well-being.(1213)

    Even a ten-minute walk around the block every day can help keep the holiday depression at bay.

  5. Spend Time With Your Loved Ones

    Instead of choosing to spend the holidays at home alone, it is a good idea to get together with your family and friends. If you don’t feel like stepping out of your house, you can think about calling them over to your place. Try to spruce up your home with holiday decorations. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much of a change these small things can make when you are feeling depressed.

    The holidays can be especially difficult for older adults who might not always be able to travel to be with their family and friends. If you are a senior citizen who is going to be spending the holidays alone, it might be a good idea to find some cause to volunteer with. Volunteering opportunities at this time of the year will allow you to remain occupied and be around others. There are many non-profit organizations that even come pick you up if you are unable to get around by yourself.

    It is important to note that if you find yourself still feeling depressed even after a substantial time has passed since the holidays, it is possible that you are dealing with something other than just a case of holiday depression. In such a case, it is important to consult your doctor and discuss your symptoms with them. Your doctor will help you determine the exact underlying cause and develop a treatment plan that will help you feel better and live a better quality of life.


Holiday depression is a very real condition and it can affect your life in a very serious way. However, by making certain changes in your lifestyle it is possible to alleviate your symptoms and feel better. Making positive changes like restricting your alcohol intake, spending time with your family and friends, exercising regularly, and getting a good night’s sleep can all help relieve your symptoms while keeping those holiday blues at bay. If you find, though, that you are not getting any relief from your symptoms even after making these healthy and positive lifestyle changes, you should consider speaking with your doctor.

After assessing your symptoms, your doctor may decide that you will benefit from taking prescribed antidepressant medications. While the side effects of antidepressant drugs vary from person to person and brand to brand, it is a process of trial and error before you finally find one that works well for you. Apart from medications, there are many other treatment options to help people dealing with depression and your doctor will be the right person to help you discover the best treatment plan to deal with your symptoms.


  1. Himmelhoch, J.M., 1980. Holiday depression, both fact and fiction. Postgraduate medicine, 68(6), pp.185-190.
  2. Baier, M., 1987. The” holiday blues” as a stress reaction. Perspectives in psychiatric care.
  3. Tucker, D.V., 1976. Depression on holiday. British Medical Journal, 2(6043), p.1074.
  4. Christensen, R., 1984. The misdiagnosis of holiday and winter complaints: An unconscious shift in criteria?. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 21(3), p.401.
  5. Hennes, J.L. and Rodes, M., 2011. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders and pain management. Essentials of Pain Medicine, p.39.
  6. Boden, J.M. and Fergusson, D.M., 2011. Alcohol and depression. Addiction, 106(5), pp.906-914.
  7. Schuckit, M.A., 1994. Alcohol and depression: a clinical perspective. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 89, pp.28-32.
  8. Bulloch, A., Lavorato, D., Williams, J. and Patten, S., 2012. Alcohol consumption and major depression in the general population: the critical importance of dependence.
  9. Depression and anxiety, 29(12), pp.1058-1064.
  10. Steiger, A. and Pawlowski, M., 2019. Depression and sleep. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(3), p.607.
  11. Thase, M.E., 2022. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience.
  12. Schuckit, M.A., 1994. Alcohol and depression: a clinical perspective. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 89, pp.28-32.
  13. Daley, A., 2008. Exercise and depression: a review of reviews. Journal of clinical psychology in medical settings, 15(2), pp.140-147.
  14. Balchin, R., Linde, J., Blackhurst, D., Rauch, H.L. and Schönbächler, G., 2016. Sweating away depression? The impact of intensive exercise on depression. Journal of affective disorders, 200, pp.218-221.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 21, 2023

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