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Christmas Depression? Why Holidays Are Hard and How to Cope This Year

christmas depression

photo by Leeloo the First for Pexels

by Andrea M. Darcy

It’s that time of year when many of us feel low. Why is that? How can you be sure you’ve got the symptoms of Christmas depression? And what can be done to stop you sliding too far into the dumps? Or stop your usual mild depression veering into something more serious? 

What are the symptoms of Christmas depression?

The signs of Christmas depression are like any other type of depression. They can include:

[For more about the signs of depression, see our free “Guide to Depression“. Or try our quiz, ‘Stressed, Depressed, or Both?”]

Why do I feel so low around Christmas?

Go easy on yourself for feeling low if the following typical reasons for Christmas depression sounds familiar:

It’s a particularly hard time of year for those of us in our later years, who might have outlived our loved ones. Charity Age UK did a holiday season survey that found that nearly a million older folks felt even lonelier than usual at Christmas, and two-fifths of them reported being widowed.  

Myths about Christmas depression

But note that depression is different than stress because it can sometimes be illogical. We have a family, or a partner, money, things seem fine… but we still feel low. 

Depression can often be related to unresolved past traumas, like difficult childhood experiences or abuse. These kinds of things can leave us with deep rooted core beliefs that we don’t deserve joy and happiness. So when things get too good, our brain triggers depression.

Am I stressed or depressed online quiz

In this way Christmas depression can be a reminder that next year might be the one we need to gather up our courage and get help to deal with out past.

Christmas depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Christmas is also right when some people are starting to experience the full effects of seasonal affective disorder. SAD is triggered by the onset of the cold and longer nights.

So it’s worth noticing if your depression is in line with seasonal changes each year. Does it always start near Christmas, then clear up fully near spring? 

So I’ve got Christmas depression. What now?

1. Stop the comparison.

Why do things like debt and family issues become more of a problem at Christmas? When we have the same issues year round? Because the festive season is one of endless comparison. 

People around us share their plans that seem so perfect. And our social media feeds go hard on selling us the happy family myth.  

Comparing ourselves to others is one of the fastest ways to kill our self-esteem. And low self-esteem is one of the leading factors in depression. 

TRY THIS: Set a timer to go off at certain times of the day and check in with your thoughts over the last hour. Write down any comparisons you’ve made. Ask yourself:

  • Is this comparison I’ve made actually true, or an assumption?
  • What might I not know about the person I compared myself too, what struggle might they secretly have?
  • How do I actually compare equally or favourably?
christmas depression

photo by Keira Burton for Pexels

2. Do this as you brush your teeth each morning.

Every morning when your brush your teeth, use the moment to come up with three to five things you are grateful for. Yes, it might be the last thing you feel like doing. But think of it like a lifeline because gratitude is proven to help moods.

Why when you brush your teeth? When we attach a new habit to one we do ‘no matter what’, like brush our teeth, then it’s more likely to stick.

3. Go heavy on the self care. 

Yes, reaching for the booze or eating the contents of the fridge might seem the best way to feel better, but it inevitably backfires. Alcohol is a depressant, and nobody feels good with indigestion and bloating.

The more self care you can muster, the better. It doesn’t have to be perfect. If you can’t bear the gym, just go for a walk. If you can’t stop the sugar, add in a salad. Each mini choice to take care of yourself is a message to your brain that you matter. 

4. Say this little magic word to reduce Christmas depression.

One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to say no to things you are aware will make you feel worse. No to eating the ham your mother made when you are trying to go vegan, no to the drinks with colleagues when they aren’t even nice to you. 

Pleasing others at the expense of pleasing ourselves never works. And the more we say no to others, the more we say yes to ourselves, and create time for the things that actually make us feel better.

The one thing to consider saying yes to? Sending Christmas cards. A study from an Irish university found that almost half of those who are depressed don’t set cards, but suggests giving it a go. Other research shows the prosocial gesture of expressing gratitude in writing like in cards boosts positive emotions in both the receiver and sender. 

5. But get out there despite yourself. 

Do also say yes when it is a social event you would have enjoyed when you were not depressed.

Depression leads us to avoid others and struggle to leave the house. But getting ourselves into positive social situations means we remember we are connected. At the very least we are distracted and stop endlessly overthinking.

Of course use discretion. A night out taking party drugs would be a no. A dinner with friends or a walk in nature (also getting some sunlight, which can help depression)  would make sense.

Another idea is to create your own tradition if remembering ones from happier years makes you feel low. Decide to celebrate Solstice instead, or create a tradition of volunteering, proven to lift moods

When to seek support for Christmas depression

If you know that Christmas leaves you a mess, then consider booking an appointment with a counsellor as soon as you can. Because once depression hits, we are less and less capable to make that effort. Remember that nowadays you don’t even have to leave the house but can book online therapy.

At the very least arrange with a friend to be on call when you put yourself in situations you know trigger you.

Need to talk to someone immediately? Call a free help line. The volunteers on the other end will be happy to help, and places like the Good Samaritans are open 24-7 even over the festive season.

If you are a young person, Young Minds has online message boards open 24-7 over the holidays. Or read stories about Christmas depression as experienced by other young people over at Mind UK Charity where you can also share yours.

**If you are considering hurting yourself or others, do call emergency services.

Want to talk to someone to beat your Christmas depression this year? We connect you with top therapists in central London. Not in London or the UK? Our online booking platform connects you to Skype therapists no matter where you live. 


Andrea MAndrea M. Darcy mental health expert. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She suffers Christmas depression herself so knows what it’s like! Find her on Instagram @am_darcy

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Blog Topics: Depression

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