Holiday Depression and Anxiety

How to Cope With Depression or Anxiety During the Holidays

This entry was posted in Mental Health on November 22, 2016 and modified on April 30, 2019

Many people think of the holidays as the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a festive time of togetherness and merriment, glittering lights and memorable music. But if you are clinically depressed or struggle with anxiety, you may find that your symptoms such as fatigue and gloominess are worse during the holiday season.

The holidays are a time when all that festivity and glee may intensify your feelings that your own life isn’t as wonderful as you would like it to be. During this busy time, you may focus squarely on who or what is missing from your life rather than what you have to be thankful for. You may compare your own life to the seemingly perfect lives of those around you and conclude that you have been shortchanged somehow.

Expectations of Special Times

At first you may look forward to the holidays, feeling like this really is a great time of year. Anticipation of happy holidays can lead to very high expectations. You expect an unfolding of memorable, fun times. You expect to feel joyous and fulfilled. But having extremely high expectations of what you will experience during the holidays is an almost surefire way to set yourself up for sadness and disappointment.

When the holidays don’t meet your expectations, the disappointment may consume you. Whether you expect to enjoy visiting with family, attending office parties or exchanging gifts, you may find that reality doesn’t measure up. The higher your expectations, the more likely that what happens isn’t quite as interesting or exciting as you thought it would be.

Grief and Loneliness

For those who are grieving the loss of someone who was very important in their lives, the holiday season can stir up very painful emotions. Memories of holidays past may make you feel empty. Memories can be triggered by anything from the sound of music and carols to the aroma of the holiday meal being prepared. Grief can be even more intense if your loved one passed away during the holidays, and this time of year might feel like a cruel reminder of your loss.

If you don’t have close family or friends to surround you during this time, you may find that even if you are usually able to cope with being by yourself, you feel very lonely during the holidays. Everywhere you look is a reminder of those who have loving family relationships. When that isn’t what you are experiencing, your loneliness can be all-consuming, and it can greatly intensify feelings of depression.

Other Things to Consider During the Holidays

The holidays aren’t the only reason emotions may take a nosedive this time of year. Increased depressive symptoms around the holidays could also be caused by the change of seasons. If your mood gets low just before holidays and doesn’t spring back till well after they have passed, that could be a sign that you have seasonal affective disorder rather than just the holiday blues. If you think it’s possible that you have seasonal affective disorder, talk to your doctor.

The holidays are a time during when you probably have a lot more to do than usual, and this can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious. You have a lot of places to go, or you may have a lot of planning to do. You feel like you can’t possibly do it all, and most likely you can’t. In order to avoid experiencing disappointment or anxiousness, you may have to say no to some of the things you have been asked to do.

Ways to Cope During the Holidays

To cope with depression and anxiety during the holidays, it’s important to pay attention to what is triggering you to feel bad, and do what you have to do to stay in emotional balance. Try to avoid having high expectations of how things are supposed to be. During this time, it’s important to have a support system of people that you can be honest with about how you are feeling. If you are overwhelmed by everything that you have to do, ask for help. And give yourself permission to say no to invitations or to leave social events early if you need to.

Avoid relying on alcohol or drugs to relieve your negative feelings. Don’t skip taking medication you’ve been prescribed and keep any scheduled appointments with counselors. If feelings of depression and anxiety continue to escalate, let your doctor know. Most of all, keep in mind that the holidays are a temporary time, and they will be behind you before you know it.

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