Holiday Depression


Understanding Holiday Feelings

It is beginning to look like December…

Decorated and lighted trees; red and white poinsettias; cookies and eggnog; and a spray of hanging mistletoe inviting affection.

Some of us dance to the jingle of silvery bells; hum Christmas carols at random, daily moments; wait with unending energy for minutes-to-hours in store lines to purchase holiday gifts; and join our children in a frantic impatience for the possible sounds of reindeer transporting treasures.

While many savor the holiday season, others seem immobilized by feelings of despair and probable depression.

This holiday depression can seemingly torture anyone. Indeed, renowned producer David O. Selznick, who created the memorable character Scarlett O’Hara in the motion picture “Gone With the Wind”, stated, “I am so depressed. Holidays are terrible. Christmas is the worst of all.” (BrainyQuote, 2018).

On this same theme, Donvito (Reader’s Digest, 2018) has indicated that the holiday season can be very difficult emotionally. According to Donvito’s review of the American Psychological Association information, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported an increase in stress around the holidays. A similar study (Berk, NBC News, 2015) stated that 45 percent of those polled said the holiday season brings so much financial pressure they would prefer to skip it altogether.

In explaining holiday depression, editors (WebMD, 2018) express that the holiday season is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, and anxiety. Sources of holiday sadness include stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, and over-commercialization in our society.

Lazarus (Psychology Today, 2010), adds that many people feel sad and lonely during the holiday season. It is also, generally, a colder and darker time of year, increasing mood difficulties, such as seasonal pattern disorders, also called seasonal affective disorder.

Author Jaworski (Psycom.Net, 2018) writes that experiencing depression during the holidays is common. This depression is worse with the absence of a significant other or close family member.

Soffer (Health Magazine, 2018) has focused on the holiday stressor of the permanent loss, by death, of someone loved. Grieving can make the holiday season, with its own stressors, extremely hard to bear.

Pryor (Family Circle Magazine, 2018), shares she was raised in a family where holidays were a time of love, traditions, and togetherness. She writes of her loss, misery, and devastation after being divorced during a holiday season. She struggled to learn ways to rebuild her life and family.

According to a well-known Danish study (Distribution of Suicides in Denmark, 1970 – 1998, 2015), there was a major increase of 40 percent in suicide risk from January 1 to January 14, which may be attributable to the effects of Christmas and the new year. The aim of the study was to examine whether holidays exert any direct influence.

Discovering Holiday Peace

It appears that holiday emotions can range from sadness to severe depression.

Pirie (Good Housekeeping, 2018) has included health and wellness information for the holidays, noting that December adds extra stress for many people. She recommends warmlines, available in many communities, as a free phone service, for anyone experiencing stress, anxiety, and loneliness. These helplines offer trained counselors to listen and assist with coping. Pirie suggests contacting local mental health agencies for these helplines.

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Orange County and Los Angeles County, California, offer warmlines to provide emotional support for mental health concerns, substance abuse, loneliness, or need information regarding community resources (NAMIOC.Org., 2018).

Mayo Clinic (2018) has recognized the stress and depression experienced with the holidays. They recommend time to express feelings with the help of community or social events. It will also be helpful to realize that holidays may not be perfect, as family members may also experience stress. Additionally, one does not need to try to buy happiness with the purchase of many gifts.

Cleveland Clinic (2016) recommends decreasing holiday stress by spending time with caring people/friends. Their editors also suggest reflecting on the spiritual significance of the holidays.

Health Magazine’s writer Pawlik-Kienlen (2018) indicates additional methods to handle holiday stress: finding humor and laughter in anything; decreasing time pressure on e-mails and computers; and trying to emphasize some positive, rather than negative thoughts.

Lehrman, in examining holiday frustration, recommends the practice of mindfulness. Pause, and be aware of what is happening in the present, without judgement. Mindfulness is an excellent method to decrease feeling stressed (PsychCentral, 2018).

Northwestern University editors (2010) have recognized the stressor of daily holiday coping. They write of the need to take daily breaks to stretch, walk, or have coffee. These activities may help to stop the flow of stress hormones.

Writer Lee (Forbes, 2015) addresses holiday stress by suggesting keeping a regular exercise routine; continuing hobbies enjoyed; and maintaining healthy eating, as possible, with holiday activities.

The American Psychological Association (2016) suggests that one handle holiday stress by taking some time for self. It is impossible to be everything to everyone. Participating in self care—such as music-listening or reading—can decrease stress.

The American Psychological Association also recommends that helping others, by volunteering, may lift one’s mood.

Peace and Joy With Volunteering

Teacher Jennifer Olawski noticed the sadness from a first grader during a holiday season. This teacher found that 80% of her young students qualified for funded lunches. This teacher started a gift fund for her students who had never been given a Christmas gift (Fields, Good Housekeeping, 2018).

It is likely that Ms. Olawski experiences as much joy from giving, as her students, in receiving.

This writer recalls an associate who helps serve meals each Christmas at a homeless food center. She began this volunteer activity at a time when the stressors in her live were intolerable. She discovered that a Christmas with those more unfortunate helped her find gratitude and joy in her life, whatever the circumstances.

In a therapist role, this writer has also observed the joy of mental health clients when offered opportunities to help with hospital and clinic holiday planning, entertainment, cookie baking, and decorating.

The joy of one client encouraging the holiday participation of another shy, isolative client was immeasurable!

In the words of Swedish physician and psychiatrist, Axel Munthe (Think Advisor,2014), “What you keep for yourself, you lose. What you give away, you keep forever.”



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About Author

Kathleen Noonan
Kathleen Noonan

Kate Noonan has a degree in Social Ecology and a Master's in Occupational Therapy with a specialization in mental health. Her current focus is medical writing in mental health-related subjects.

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