It’s the most wonderful time of the year– and for many people, also the most difficult. The winter holidays are an incredibly busy time where it’s common to see your extended family and friends, put a lot of effort into holiday preparations, potentially face added stress at work, and just generally feel overwhelmed. With so many contributing factors, it’s no wonder that many people find they feel worse around the holidays, either from an unusually low mood or a worsening of existing depression. If you’re not feeling much like celebrating this year and are having trouble figuring out why, here are some common root causes of holiday depression and what to do about them.
You’re Trying to Force the Holiday Cheer
When you’re going through a rough patch, there’s no faster way to make yourself feel worse than to try and act like nothing’s wrong. You might be trying to muscle through the pain and put on a happy face for the sake of not spoiling anyone else’s holiday, but when you do this, you’re only hurting yourself. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, lost your job, are dealing with an illness or financial troubles, or are just plain exhausted. Of course you won’t be in a particularly festive mood, and admitting that you’re sad or scared or frustrated is not a crime.
While the holidays are about celebrating the good times together with your loved ones, they’re also about leaning on each other through the bad times. Don’t be ashamed of your negative emotions– feel them, process them, and let them naturally pass you by. Lean on your friends and loved ones for support as you need it.
You’re Burnt Out
Burnout is a real and serious possibility that you face when you’re working yourself too hard. If you feel like the holiday blur has you frenzied at work, braving the hustle and bustle of shopping, sweating over the stove to cook and bake, and spending your rest days occupied in visits and parties, at a certain point you’re simply going to run out of fuel. A depressed, low mood is like your car’s gas light coming on. It’s a warning that you’re doing too much, and your energy is a finite resource.
Remember that it’s okay to say no to things, even during this time of year! Missing out on a few parties or events or taking a simpler approach to holiday preparations won’t ruin the festivities or damage your relationship with loving family and friends. Pay attention to your limits and be mindful about how you expend your energy, and don’t forget to rest! Take time to look after yourself, now more than ever.
You’re Feeling Lonely
Holidays inherently come with the expectation of happy moments spent with your friends and family, and if you happen to live far away, or your circle is small, dealing with the terrible feeling of loneliness is unpleasant but not uncommon.
To combat this, try to take advantage of what’s available to you. If you live far from your family, sharing a virtual meal together or simultaneously streaming a seasonal movie might be a great way to spend some time together, even if you can’t see each other in person. Try to set up regular check-ins with your friend group, even if it’s a small one. Maybe you can meet up for a holiday coffee and talk about how your winter is going so far on the weekends!
Your Family Stresses You Out
This is a tough one. It’s common to spend time with extended family during the holidays, and no matter how much you love them, family can get on your nerves like no one else. Rude comments, mean-spirited jokes, and difficult conversations can leave you walking away from a family gathering feeling frustrated and hurt instead of happy.
The best answer to this problem is not an easy one, but it is necessary and helpful. You need to set and maintain clear boundaries with your family about what you are and aren’t comfortable with. Be firm and calm when you set a boundary, and don’t make a statement you don’t plan on upholding. For example, saying “If you keep making comments about my appearance, I’m going to walk away from the table,” or “If you keep insulting my parenting choices, the kids and I are going to go home,” draws a clear line about what’s okay with you. If a family member violates your boundary, then do exactly what you said you would and remove yourself from the situation for your own emotional and mental wellbeing.
You Feel Like You Haven’t Done Enough
The most daunting thing about the holiday season overall is expectations. At this time of year they’re higher than ever, and most people simply don’t have the time, energy, and resources to create a perfect holiday for themselves or their families. You might not even realize how much you’ve been beating yourself up over not measuring up to high standards of perfection in your gifts, cooking, commitments, decorating, or just about anything else.
The thing you have to realize is that no one actually accomplishes everything they’d hoped to for the holiday season. Even if you had unlimited time, maximum energy, and an infinite budget, you couldn’t possibly get done every single thing that you wanted to do. Being hard on yourself won’t get you anywhere, and will only end up making you feel so miserable that you won’t be able to enjoy the things that you do have with the people you love. When you catch yourself feeling guilty, disappointed, or upset about not achieving your goals for the holidays (or for the year in general), try to be mindful about taking a step back and being kinder to yourself.
You Have Seasonal Depression
Believe it or not, even if the winter holidays didn’t exist, you might still find yourself feeling crummy at this time of year, and the reason for that comes down to the change of season. Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is actually fairly common and might be the root cause of your holiday blues. If you find yourself starting to feel depressed as the weather gets colder every year, talk to a doctor or mental health professional to see if you might have SAD. There are many effective treatments for this, from standard therapy to using a sunlamp to try and counteract the effects of the shorter days.