Feeling The Holiday Blues? Find Out Why & What To Do

by Joan MacDonald
Not everyone is excited about the holidays. As merry as the season can be, some people are saddened around the holidays. There's always a few Scrooges, as well.
“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart,” said Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Sad? Overwhelmed? Feeling like Scrooge? 

Amid December’s parties, presents, and sparkling lights, a sizable percentage of the population suffers. The number of people reporting depression symptoms rises significantly during the holiday season and may first appear in some who feel fine most of the year. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the holidays can worsen depression in those previously diagnosed and provide a tipping point for those vulnerable to depression.
 The symptoms of depression can include:
  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Lack of energy,
  • Trouble concentrating

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What is it About the Holidays that Puts People in a Bad Mood?


Finding the cause for holiday depression is the first step. Depending on the cause, there may be a simple remedy. Some common causes are unreal expectations, an overdose of seasonal stress, and not taking the time for self-care.

1. Unreal expectations can prevent you from appreciating what you have.

It would be lovely if the presents were perfect, the house looked amazing and everyone in the family got along. It is always possible that will happen but there’s no guarantee. Some of those “perfect” presents will earn blank stares and there could be a fight about the cranberry sauce. The days might disappointingly be spent far from family or aggravatingly spent with too many family members. There may not have been enough time or money to celebrate in style. So many things may fall short of your picture-perfect ideal of a holiday. The solution? Throw away unrealistic expectations. Striving for perfection in anything—including the holidays—is a set-up for disappointment. 

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2. Seasonal stress can spoil the celebrations.  

Holiday preparations can include too many to-do lists and seasonal events competing for attention. There may be cookies to bake, decorations to put up, gifts to buy and guests to feed. Task after task is often heaped on one person. It’s hard to be of good cheer when exhausted.
Holiday preparations may leave little time for self care. Fitting in extra shopping can mean missing meals and there are sugary high-fat treats everywhere, tempting you to overindulge. Holiday obligations can also pre-empt regular trips to the gym or a peaceful walk in which you can organize your thoughts. As a result, your health can suffer in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
3. Winter blues may be caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Symptoms can include irritability, low energy, feeling tired, craving carbs and gaining weight, with symptoms generally starting or worsening in the fall as the days shorten. SAD is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. If symptoms point to the possibility of SAD, see a mental health professional. There are many, many ways to treat the winter blues.
Once you identify the reasons, there are steps you can take to combat holiday depression, though.

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7 Steps to Make the Season A Little Brighter

There’s nothing wrong with opting out of the festivities and celebrating holidays quietly alone, but if you feel depressed, consider these tips to help boost your enjoyment of the season.
  1. Have realistic expectations. The holidays are probably not going to be perfect but there will likely be some good parts. Focus on the positive.

  2. Holidays evolve. Don’t insist there is only one way to celebrate. If your family has outgrown some holiday traditions, try something new. Be flexible.

  3. Take an organizing cue from Santa. Make some lists. Check them twice. Make a plan for the season and stick to it.

  4. Keep things simple. It’s better to enjoy the holidays with store-bought cookies than get in a bad mood baking them.

  5. Don’t overspend. Make a budget and stick to it.

  6. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Take a break from the holiday whirl. Walk in the woods. Get a massage. Have coffee with a friend.

  7. Volunteer. Helping others shifts the focus away from negative internal dialogue. Doing good for others feels good and can help your immune system cope with seasonal stress.

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