How to Avoid Common Holiday Depression Triggers

Many people suffer with stress, anxiety, and depression during the winter holidays. The truth is holiday cheer isn’t guaranteed just because it’s forced on you by television specials, social media posts, and carols in every single store you step foot in. Several sources can cause a storm negativity during the holidays—from money stress to family stress, and from pressure and unmet expectations to loneliness.

If you’re prone to depression over the holidays, here are six common negative hazards to avoid…

1. Trim your Obligations

While your trimming the halls with holly and mistletoe, it’s a good time to remember that it’s alright for you to say no. That means you don’t have to feel guilty and obligated to do it all. You even have the permission to celebrate in your PJ’s in the comfort of your own home, no matter what your in-laws say.

For instance, Pauline Wallin, PhD, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based author and clinical psychologist, says to give yourself permission to sit out holiday soirees and gatherings that are just too stressful. You can also limit your time at events to make an appearance, but duck out before anxiety sets in.

decorate christmas tree

2. Get Some Shut Eye

With all the holiday planning, it’s no wonder many of us are short on sleep over the holidays. Last minute baking, cooking, shopping, wrapping, and etc., can no doubt eat into your sleep schedule.

Research from the National Sleep Foundation identifies a clear link between sleep loss and depression, but that relationship is a two-way street. While sleep loss can cause depression—persistent sleep loss can lead to feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, apathy, and depression. To combat, try to establish a regular sleeping schedule where you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time daily, even during the holiday rush.

sleep christmas

3. Say No to Family Drama

You’re definitely not alone if bringing the family together over the holidays results in tons of conflict and drama. However, you don’t have to take part in the chaos, according to Jeffrey Greeson, PhD and assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, North Carolina.

Go into family gatherings armed with a means to shut down those who want to stir up conflict. If the pot is stirred by Uncle Jimmy, just say, “You have a right to your opinion, but now’s not the time to talk about it.”

winter peace 

4. Feel to Heal

Many folks will experience the loss of a loved one during the holiday season, but grieving that loss isn’t something you can (or should) put on hold until Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over.

Mourning a loved one, a lost relationship, and even the death of a pet can make us feel hopeless, angry, cynical, and guilty as the holidays approach. As humans we need to feel to heal, so don’t refrain from reaching out to loved ones, take time for yourself, talk about your feelings, and join a support group.

christmas candle

5. Get Real with Expectations

Recall your favorite holiday movie where the family felt the true meaning of Christmas…and the snow fell and the stars twinkled, all the little children danced with all the winter woodland creatures? Yeah, that was fake. Totally Hollywood fake.

It’s often the pressure we inflict on oursleves to have the perfect holiday that makes it a depressing let down. So do your expectations a favor. Get real with more simple shopping, wrapping, and decorating, and try to look around and grateful for the genuine blessings in your life.


6. Give a Little Self-Care

During the holidays we’re often pressured to focus on others, so much that caring for ourselves is forgotten among all the shopping, baking, visiting, hosting, and gifting for everyone else.

Boston-based psychiatrist and author of The Emotional Calendar: Understanding Seasonal Influences and Milestones to Become Happier, More Fulfilled, and in Control of Your Life, Dr. John Sharp, MD, reminds us to treat ourselves by taking time out when we need it for rest and self care during the winter holidays. “Figure out what [restorative routines] will help you get through the holidays and make them a priority,” he says.

christmas cat

Share This Article