The holidays are supposed to be the warmest, happiest time of the year, but for many, Christmas depression is a horrible reality.
Every commercial and advertisement project the fantasy that everyone gets together and shares good times with each other. It appears that the holidays are supposed to be a time where we all get along, put differences aside, and be thankful for all that we have.
And yet, for many people, the holidays are some of the most stressful and difficult times of the year, especially for those who suffer from depression.
Christmas Depression — There’s a pressure to be happy
Christmas depression manifests in a way that makes it incredibly difficult to enjoy even the little things in life. When you throw in the added pressure from family and societal expectations to be happy around the holidays, it can be even more exhausting for someone with depression to show up to gatherings or partake in festive activities.
It might be easier to stay home and crawl into bed to avoid the pressure and energy it can take to show up and be present.
Happiness hack: When you start to feel overwhelmed with this pressure, find a way to excuse yourself from everyone and take a moment to be with yourself.
Practice some mindfulness or do some deep breathing. Place a hand on your chest and one on your stomach, and repeat affirmations such as “You are safe,” to yourself.
This can help you feel more grounded and in touch with yourself during periods of intense stress.
Christmas depression and the winter blues
For those who experience the winter climate during December, the additional challenge of dealing with daylight savings and cold weather can be a brutal obstacle.
Not only are you trying to work through the illness and put on a “happy face” for friends and family, but the lack of sunlight and cold temperatures can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), making you feel even more depressed.
Activities you might have done before—such as hiking, going to the beach, reading outside—might be limited because of bad weather.
Happiness hack for beating Christmas depression: Going outside—even for just a quick walk—can have a tremendous effect on mood and may even help to recover from a depressed state of mind, even if it’s temporary.
Bundle up and go for a walk in the snow, or get in touch with your playful side and go sledding or skating. If the weather is too brutal to be outside, invest in a SAD light for some light therapy.
Family dynamics during Christmas
Everyone around this time of year knows that you “should be home for the holidays.” And while many families enjoy getting together each year and partaking in their favorite traditions, the holiday season might trigger past trauma or ignite complicated family arguments.
For example, some may feel uncomfortable going home because it means dealing with differing political or moral beliefs. Maybe a particular person in the family is causing tension and elevating negativity.
Perhaps you don’t get along with your parents or siblings or are estranged from them altogether.
These uncomfortable situations can exacerbate depressive symptoms, making you feel even more isolated and alone. It can trigger negative core beliefs and wounds, such as “I don’t deserve to be happy,” or “I don’t belong,” even though these thoughts aren’t true.
Additionally, as we grow, families change. New members of the family are added, some members of the family are gone, and some may be too far away for us to see. This can throw a wrench in traditions and planning and cause major Christmas depression.
This challenges us to change our perspectives on how we want to celebrate. Maybe you’re used to going to your grandmother’s house each year, but if she’s passed, now you and your family will need to make a new tradition.
These changes might cause friction or tension as you learn to adapt to a new routine for the holidays. When you’re suffering from depression, these already-difficult dynamics and shifts in routine can feel like an extra weight.
Happiness hack: As hard as it might be, try setting some boundaries with your family.
Remember that family isn’t just blood—surround yourself with friends and loved ones who make you feel good about yourself.
If you’re going to be in an uncomfortable family dynamic, prep yourself with coping tools so that you know what to do if you feel triggered.
For example, you can invest in a fidget tool, so if you feel anxious, you can let out some anxious energy. Or, try practicing some go-to phrases when you start to feel emotionally unsafe.
For example, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this right now,” or, when someone is pushing your boundaries, “I will have to leave if we keep having this discussion.”
Relationships During Christmas
The holidays can be an alluring, romantic time of the year—full of warmth, closeness, and positive outlooks for the new year. This can be excruciating when you’ve just been through a breakup or feel the pressure coming from friends or family to be with a partner and can cause major Christmas depression.
There are so many movies and songs and Christmas cards that speak to having someone to love during the holidays. Even if you’re in a relationship, you might be facing a rough patch, considering/going through a divorce, or just going through an awkward growing period that can make you feel a little distant.
Happiness hack: If you’re single and you’re consistently faced with questions about your relationship status from friends or family, prepare some go-to phrases, like, “I don’t want to talk about this right now. How about we play a game instead?”
You don’t owe anyone an explanation—your relationship is personal to you. You get to decide what you share and what you don’t.
If you’re in a relationship but going through a rocky patch, practice patience—the holidays aren’t perfect, no matter how much pressure there is for them to be. Practice self-compassion and self-love. This can help you show up better in your own relationship.
Dieting and body image issues can trigger Christmas depression
Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses, pasta, bread, cakes—these are all things we can enjoy without guilt or self-loathing.
But the diet industry makes us think that we can only enjoy these things during the holidays and that we need to diet before/after to “get back on track.”
Those with depression might use food to cope or control their feelings, by either overeating or avoiding eating. Sometimes, being depressed makes us not want to eat at all, and we might feel pressure from friends and family to partake in large meals or drinks.
Christmas depression can be overcome
If you’re suffering from depression on Christmas, just remember that it can be overcome. Sometimes these tips can help, but other times, you need counseling and the help of medication.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
If you’re suffering from Christmas depression, let me know in the comments—I want to help.