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The Christmas blues: Managing depression during the holiday season

By Josie Simon, December 16 2023—

While the holiday season is often associated with warmth, happiness, and familial togetherness, it can also be a challenging time for many people – especially those who experience difficulties with their mental health. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people report elevated stress levels during the holiday season. This stress can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, leading to further difficulties during what should be a festive and joyous time of year.  

Holiday depression can stem from numerous causes. Financial strain is common as people stretch their budgets for gifts, leading to stress and guilt. The desire to ‘glow up’ by the new year can create additional pressure as people assess past achievements and future goals, often feeling anxious about self-improvement.  

The expectation to give to those less fortunate can also be burdensome, particularly for individuals facing their own financial challenges or feelings of isolation. Moreover, holiday media, often filled with images of family and warmth, can intensify feelings of loneliness for those whose experiences do not match these ideals.  

Contributing to the emotional strain are factors such as sleep deprivation from a hectic schedule, overindulgence in food and alcohol as coping mechanisms, and the assumption that the holidays should be a time of constant cheerfulness.

Children are also not immune to holiday depression. Disrupted routines, family tension, and missing friends can lead to sadness. Vigilance for these signs and early discussion with a pediatrician or mental health expert can be crucial for children’s emotional health.  

If you are dealing with depression during the holidays, there are clear steps you can take to manage and alleviate your symptoms: 

1. Prioritize self-care: Dedicate time to unwind with activities that bring you joy and relaxation, like exercising, meditating, and getting adequate rest. 

2. Adjust expectations: Recognize that the holiday season does not have to be picture-perfect. Accept that things may not go as planned and give yourself permission to prioritize your mental health.  

3. Seek support: Talk to loved ones about your feelings. Mental health professionals can also provide guidance and support to help you manage your symptoms.  

4. Prioritize well-being: Say “no” to excessive commitments and focus on activities that bring joy and fulfillment.  

If someone you care about is dealing with holiday depression, here are a few ways you can offer support:  

1. Be present: Be available and spend time with your friend or loved one. A simple phone call or visit can help alleviate loneliness and isolation.  

2. Validate feelings: Acknowledge the difficulties of the holiday season and validate that their feelings are important and real.  

3. Encourage professional help: Suggest that your loved one speak to a mental health professional for additional support and guidance.  

4. Provide hands-on support: Assist your loved one with tasks like cooking or shopping, which can lessen their stress during the holiday season. You can also suggest that they prioritize their financial goals over gift-giving by forgoing presents in favour of saving or budgeting. 

While the holidays can be challenging, it is important to remember that joy and fulfillment are still possible despite feelings of sadness and anxiety. The greatest gift you can offer yourself and those around you is kindness, patience, and the reassurance that nobody has to face these challenges alone. Happy holidays! 

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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