While the holiday season is often a time of celebration, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed during this time of year. In fact, a 2014 survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64 percent of people with mental illness reported that the holidays made their illness feel “somewhat” or “a lot” worse.1 Many respondents also reported feeling too much pressure, feeling sad or dissatisfied, experiencing loneliness, and being financially strained.1
Factors such as shopping for gifts, social and family gatherings, travel, having less time to relax, high expectations, feeling like everything has to be perfect, not being able to see loved ones or having lost a loved one, and fatigue can trigger or worsen anxiety and depression during the holiday season.2–4 Additionally, for people experiencing sadness or stress, the overall cheer of the season can exacerbate these negative feelings and make them feel isolated.3 The lack of sunlight during the winter months can also make people more likely to experience depression, and some people may have a form of clinical depression known as seasonal affective disorder, which typically lasts from late fall to early spring.2,3
Signs of Depression and Anxiety
It’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms of depression and anxiety in yourself and loved ones during this time of year. Symptoms include:
- Erratic or impulsive behaviors
- Being withdrawn
- Changes in relationships
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Avoiding topics about the future
Coping with Depression and Anxiety
Engaging in healthy habits is crucial for improving feelings of anxiety and depression. Here, we detail several methods to help mitigate your holiday stress.
Practice self-care. Though there’s a lot of importance placed on loved ones during the holidays, don’t forget to prioritize yourself too. Make sure to give yourself time to relax throughout this busy season, don’t skimp on sleep, and maintain a healthy diet. Also, schedule time for exercise, spending time outdoors, seeing your friends, and participating in your favorite activities.5–7
Maintain expectations. Make sure you are not expecting too much from yourself or others, as that can cause unnecessary stress. Set realistic goals for the season, prioritize the most important tasks and activities, ask for help when you need it, and remember that not everything will go according to plan—and that’s okay! Strive for fun, not perfection.3–5,8
Identify feelings and concerns. Address your specific concerns about the holiday season and make a plan to deal with them. For example, if travel makes you anxious, account for potential delays when scheduling your trip and confirm all the details in advance. When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a moment to determine what is causing your anxiety, and implement techniques to manage it. These can include taking a break from whatever you’re doing and engaging in stress-reducing practices (e.g., deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation).7,8
Budget. Time and money can feel in short supply during the holidays. As such, make a holiday budget and stick to it. Attend free, local activities, such as a tree lighting. Budgeting your time is also crucial, so plan out days you can shop, bake, and meet up with friends; just don’t forget to leave time open for relaxation!4–6
Don’t overindulge. Avoid overconsuming food and alcohol as a way to cope, as that can increase feelings of stress and depression.4,5,8
Ask for help. Reach out to a medical professional if your symptoms are impacting your daily life or if you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health and the holiday blues. 19 Nov 2014. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- Cedars-Sinai. Depression and anxiety around the holidays. 11 Dec 2018. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/signs-of-holiday-depression.html. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- HealthPartners. Dealing with depression during the holidays. https://www.healthpartners.com/blog/why-we-get-depressed-during-holidays/. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- Foston-English M. Surviving the family holiday. BeWell Stanford. https://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday/. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- Mental Health America of Wisconsin. Holiday depression and stress. https://www.mhawisconsin.org/holidaystress.aspx. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Coping with holiday anxiety and stress. 8 Jun 2017. https://uihc.org/health-topics/coping-holiday-anxiety-and-stress. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- Indiana University Health. How to cope with holiday and COVID-19 stress. 4 Oct 2022. https://iuhealth.org/thrive/how-to-cope-with-holiday-and-covid-19-stress. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Find your holiday happiness: manage anxiety and depression. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/managing-holiday-anxieties. Accessed 14 Nov 2022.