Why Do Some People Experience Depression During the Holidays?

Many people with depression symptoms experience a worsening of mood over the holidays.

man suffering from depression during holidays

Many people with depression symptoms experience a worsening of mood over the holidays.

Tommaso79 | Dreamstime

The holidays can be a time of emotional highs, but also lows. It’s not uncommon to feel loneliness, anxiety, sadness interspersed with happiness. The bad news is the holiday blues can worsen depression symptoms in people struggling with chronic depression. The good news is that holiday blues are not inevitable– you can beat your holiday depression!

For Many With Depression, Loneliness is Heightened During the Holidays

Many people with depression symptoms experience a worsening of mood over the holidays. A study of 420 Chicago-area college students investigated their feelings about the Christmas holiday and found that three of the most common themes are loneliness, anxiety, and helplessness. In another study, Canadian patients who were being evaluated in a psychiatric emergency service during the Christmas season reported feeling depressed and cited loneliness and being without a family as the most common stressors.

The Biggest Cause of Holiday Blues in Unrealistic Expectations

Experts say one of the biggest causes of holiday depression symptoms is unrealistic expectations. Studies have confirmed that the primary reason for holiday depression is belief in the myth that everyone else is having a good time and engaged in loving family relationships. While this is certainly a common wish, it’s not necessarily a fact.

You may be holding on to what you remember as an ideal holiday from years gone by. Inevitably, you won’t be able to reproduce it. You may also have the unrealistic expectation around the holidays that ‘everything must be perfect’, and perfection is, of course, rarely obtainable.

Symptoms Range from Fatigue to Family Tensions to Financial Limitations

Besides all the unrealistic expectations, other reasons for feeling blue around the holidays are numerous. According to the National Mental Health Association, fatigue, financial limitations, missing loved ones and family tensions are all common reasons for feeling sadness and depression symptoms during the holidays. If you’re like most people, you associate the holidays with family and togetherness. But in today’s world of high divorce rates and fragmented family units, it’s common to feel stress and sadness when trying to work out how time between family members is shared. Being separated from loved ones, whether because of death, financial limitations, or divorce can be especially painful around the holidays.

What Can You Do if You’re Depressed?

If you experience an increase in your depression around the holidays, some specific actions will be needed to avoid or overcome those feelings. In part 2 of this series, How to Beat Holiday Depression Without Medication, we share what the experts say are the most effective ways to prevent and treat holiday depression.

Originally published on December 20, 2012 as “Do Your Depression Symptoms Worsen During the Holidays?”.

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UHN Staff

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