For most people, the holidays are a time to gather with friends and family to celebrate the season. While things may seem merry and bright, the holidays can also trigger a lot of negative emotions for people. Sadness, loneliness, anxiety and stress can all be heightened around the holidays. This year especially, with so many people isolated from their loved ones and feeling uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those negative feelings may be abundant.
What is holiday depression?
While “holiday depression” is not a technical diagnosis, winter, and the time around the holidays, can be triggering for those with depression. Alongside that, seasonally recurring depression may actually be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
The biggest differentiator between holiday depression and SAD is that holiday depression typically lessens after the holidays pass while SAD persists throughout the winter months.
What causes holiday depression?
As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, many people start to feel symptoms of depression. Holiday stress and family triggers can add to the mix, creating a difficult environment for your well-being. Common triggers include:
- Family conflict: If you have a tumultuous relationship with some members of your family, you may dread interacting with them in close quarters.
- Grieving: For those who have lost a family member, the holidays can be difficult to navigate. Whether the loss was recent or occurred many years ago, it can be hard to ignore the “empty space” left by that loved one in your holiday traditions.
- Isolation: Isolation is one of the most common causes of holiday depression. For those with small social circles or distant family, withdrawing during the holidays is a common response. However, this often makes the feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse. Now, as many people stay home for the holidays amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more individuals may feel isolated from their friends and family.
- Stress: It’s no secret that the holidays can be a stressful time. Financial strain, event planning and hectic schedules can make you feel pulled in many directions. Feeling out of control and overwhelmed can trigger feelings of helplessness.
- Fatigue: While you’re busy running round the clock to buy gifts and plan holiday dinners, your sleep and exercise routine can suffer. Studies have shown that sleep loss can be linked to depression.
Signs of holiday depression
Depression is typically thought of as sadness, but it can be a lot more than that. While someone may feel persistently sad, there are other signs of depression. These include:
- Irritability or anger
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Lack of pleasure in normal activities or loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of loneliness
- Trouble sleeping
- Exhaustion or fatigue
Tips to combat holiday depression
If you or a loved one suffers from holiday depression or SAD, use the following tips to help combat and avoid negative feelings.
- Make plans for the holidays. With COVID changing many people’s holiday traditions, make plans early around who you are celebrating with, when and where. Avoiding last minute plans and uncertain schedules puts you back in control.
- Try to get regular exercise and sleep. You may need to shift your routine around the holidays, but make sure to carve out time to move your body (even a short walk can help lift your spirits) and make sure you get ample sleep.
- Be realistic and set limits. The holidays often mean people are asking for your time and resources. Make sure you know your limits and don’t overcommit to social obligations or projects.
- Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and can amplify negative emotions. While you can enjoy a few drinks, do so in moderation and don’t use alcohol to avoid or deal with negative feelings.
- Reach out. Feeling sad can make us want to hide and avoid people when we really should be reaching out to our network. Even with social distancing, try to find ways to connect with your loved ones, whether that’s with a phone call or video chat. If you’re feeling down, reach out to a friend or trusted family member for a heart to heart. If you need an unbiased ear, counseling or teletherapy could be an option.
- Learn to grieve. Because the holidays can make a painful loss even more obvious, it’s important to utilize positive coping mechanisms. Everyone grieves differently, but no one should grieve alone. If you are mourning a loved one, talk to a loved one or reach out to a support group. Hospice of Southwest Ohio works with compassionate chaplains who can help provide resources for managing grief.
If you or a loved one is feeling sad for long periods of time, it may be time to talk with a doctor. If your feelings of sadness during the holidays are accompanied by suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.
Hospice of Southwest Ohio is here to help. To learn more about the programs and services available to you by your hometown hospice provider, visit hswo.org.
Find out more about Hospice of Southwest Ohio
Hospice of Southwest Ohio is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life during a patient’s final months and days. Rather than viewing hospice as scary or troubling, it can be viewed as a natural way for patients to pass away with dignity and the loving support of family, friends and an interdisciplinary care team that helps them experience a more peaceful and comfortable death.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have about end-of-life care. Hospice of Southwest Ohio offers hospice, palliative and in-home primary care in and around the greater Cincinnati area in Clermont County, Butler County, Warren County and Hamilton County. Call today at (513) 770-0820.