Though the holidays are normally a time of joy, warmth, and togetherness, your experience may not match the cheery imagery portrayed in movies and advertisements. Both seasonal depression and holiday depression can rob you of your joy during the holidays. But is holiday depression normal?
In this article:
- Why Does Depression Flare Over the Holidays?
- Coping Strategies for Holiday Depression
- Seasonal Depression vs. Long-Term Depression
How Common is Seasonal Depression?
If you are experiencing depression this holiday season, know that there are others who share your struggle. In fact, A 2021 survey shared by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 3 in 5 Americans report that their mental health declines during the holidays. Understanding that your experience is shared by hundreds during the holidays can be a powerful reminder that reaching out for help is a brave and necessary step toward navigating the intricate terrain of holiday depression.
Why Does Depression Flare Over the Holidays?
Unfortunately, holiday depression can steal your holiday joy. The causes of holiday depression vary, but a difference between expectations and reality can create a feeling of dissatisfaction. The holidays can bring a mix of emotions, and the contrast between your personal emotions and the societal expectation of joy and happiness can lead to feelings of missing out or not measuring up. In fact, social comparison plays a significant role in holiday depression.
“[T]he image that’s been created of the holiday season is of it being fun, of holiday spirit sprinkled with moments of enjoyment and bliss, and that becomes the standard we tend to compare ourselves to,” says Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg, an associate clinical professor with the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “This becomes potentially quite stressful, because invariably we all go through stressful times and moments during the holidays.”
With social media showcasing seemingly perfect celebrations and relationships, it’s easy to feel inadequate by comparison with these curated images. The emphasis on family and togetherness can also be particularly challenging for those who are estranged from their families or have experienced significant losses. The holidays often magnify feelings of grief and highlight the absence of loved ones.
If you find yourself struggling with depressive symptoms whenever winter rolls around, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be another underlying cause. Characterized by depressive symptoms that typically occur during specific seasons, this mental disorder often exacerbates the challenges of holiday depression. The winter months, marked by reduced sunlight and colder weather, can trigger or intensify depressive symptoms in individuals predisposed to SAD. The overlapping timelines of SAD and the holiday season create a perfect storm, amplifying feelings of sadness during a time traditionally associated with yuletide cheer.
Utah residents are at a higher risk for seasonal depression due to lack of sunlight during the winter months, our peculiar wintertime inversions, and our demographics. These factors lead to higher rates of depression in Utah compared to other states. (Source)
Coping Strategies for Holiday Depression
If you find yourself slipping into holiday depression, adopting healthy coping strategies can make a big difference in your emotional well-being this season. Here are some tried-and-true strategies to help your well-being this holiday season:
Set realistic expectations: It’s crucial to set realistic expectations for yourself during the holidays. Accept that things may not be perfect, and it’s okay if celebrations don’t match the idealized versions from TV, movies, and social media. Focus on creating meaningful and manageable experiences.
Don’t hide your depression: Though it can be tempting to put on a brave face for your loved ones, letting others know about your struggle allows them to know how to better support you. “If you have close people in your household, let them help you tell others in the family that you are having a difficult time,” says Jed Magen, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at MSU’s College of Human Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine “You may want to have others take on more of the work of preparing for the holiday and accept help gracefully, because it is the case that people are usually trying to help because they are concerned.”
Connect with others: Loneliness can exacerbate holiday depression, so make an effort to reach out and connect with friends, support groups, or community activities. Surrounding yourself with understanding and empathetic individuals can provide a sense of belonging and support.
Create new traditions: If past traditions are associated with negative emotions, don’t feel obligated to hold on to them. Consider creating new, positive traditions. This could involve trying new activities, volunteering, or spending time on hobbies. By doing this, you separate the holiday from those feelings of depression.
Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical well-being is crucial to keeping your mental state healthy, especially during the colder months when you are likely going outside less and indulging in unhealthy foods more. “It’s completely normal to splurge on holiday cookies and treats during this time, and that’s okay,” says Rachel Weir, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “But try to balance the indulgence by planning healthy meals on days when you don’t have social events or plans.” Ensure you get enough sleep, eat nourishing foods, and engage in activities that bring you joy.
Seek professional support: If holiday depression worsens, becomes overwhelming or persists, seeking professional mental health care is recommended. Mental health professionals can provide guidance and support, helping you navigate the emotional challenges that arise during the holiday season.
Seasonal Depression vs. Long-Term Depression
While coping strategies can be beneficial to combatting holiday depression causes, long-term depression often requires specialized treatment. If depressive symptoms persist beyond the holiday season, consider visiting a psychiatrist for help. A psychiatrist can accurately diagnose your depression and provide a personalized care plan. Psychiatrists have new depression treatment tools available, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (also known as TMS).
TMS is an innovative depression treatment with a high success rate for achieving significant relief and remission from depression. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non-invasive treatment option for depression that uses machine-generated magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in specific brain regions. TMS is able to precisely target specific areas of the brain associated with mood regulation. This targeted approach offers a distinct advantage for depression treatment and remission, especially for individuals who have found little success with conventional treatments.
This graph shows actual patient results rating their depression levels throughout TMS treatment. The patient’s level of depression significantly decreased from the beginning of treatment to the end.
This groundbreaking treatment has gained recognition for its ability to bring positive changes to neural activity, ultimately alleviating depressive symptoms. For those dealing with long-term depression, TMS is a promising treatment option for relief from long-term depression.
Utah Psychiatrists at Ampelis Health
Depression is treatable. Whether you are dealing with holiday depression, seasonal depression, or major depressive disorder, you can find relief. A visit with a psychiatrist can help you find the treatment option best suited for your type of depression. In Utah, Ampelis Health psychiatrists offer patients proven treatment options to beat depression.
With the increased risk of depression during the holiday season, now is a great time to take the next step toward better mental health. Opting for TMS therapy with our team of experienced professionals allows you to take full advantage of our personalized care and cutting-edge technology. Contact Ampelis Health today and give yourself the gift of better mental health.