Christmas might be ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ but it can be incredibly difficult for people dealing with low moods or depression. Often, there is this long build-up expectation to have a picture-perfect Christmas with friends and family, adding enormous stress even for those with no existing mental health issues. In reality, many people perceive Christmas as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
What is Christmas Depression?
Christmas depression is not a clinical term, but it is often used to describe emotional, physical, or behavioural distress that individuals may experience during the holiday season, especially at Christmas.
Comparison with General Depression
|Temporary: often lasts during the holiday season
|Chronic: Often lasts for months or years
|Can be triggered by the stress of the holiday season
|Occurs any time of the year
|Often less severe than general depression
|Ranges from mild, moderate, to severe
|Triggered by holiday-related stressors, such as family conflicts, financial pressures, loneliness, or unmet expectations
|Genetic, environmental, biological, or psychological factors
|Sadness, anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest in holiday activities
|Persistent sadness, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide or death
Recognising the Signs and Symptoms of Christmas Depression
Signs and symptoms of Christmas depression vary from person to person. However, if they persist from weeks to months, severely impacting your daily life, it is important to reach out for help.
We can divide the signs and symptoms of Christmas depression into three distinct categories:
1. Emotional Symptoms
Emotional symptoms of Christmas depression include:
- Sadness and feelings of emptiness.
- Irritability and frustration, even over small matters
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Anxiety and increased nervousness
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Guilt and self-blame
2. Physical Symptoms
Emotional symptoms can manifest into a physical one. Some of the physical symptoms include:
- Changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or oversleeping)
- Changes in appetite (increased or decreased)
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Physical aches and pains without a clear cause
- Agitation or restlessness
3. Behavioural Changes
Physical and emotional symptoms of Christmas depression can lead to behavioural changes. Some of the behavioural symptoms to look out for include:
- Withdrawal from social activities and isolation
- Decreased productivity or performance at work or school
- Neglecting personal care or responsibilities
- Substance abuse as a coping mechanism
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Causes of Christmas Depression
Some of the common causes of Christmas depression include:
1. Unrealistic Expectations
There is an idealised image of perfect happiness, joy, and togetherness during Christmas. However, this portrayal of unrealistic expectations puts lots of pressure on people. When reality falls short, it leads to feelings of failure and disappointment.
2. Bad Memories
The Christmas season can be arduous for some people as it may trigger memories of past traumatic incidents, especially those who experienced abuse, grief, or loss. These reminders can trigger sadness, anxiety, or other negative emotions.
3. Comparison with others
Thanks to social media platforms and advertisements, it’s quite common to catch yourself comparing your holiday celebration with others. The constant bombardment of pictures of perfect Christmas parties, beautiful gifts, and happy families can leave you feeling discontent or inadequate. However, it’s important to remember that Christmas is more than just a picture-perfect moment.
4. Financial Stress
Christmas can be stressful for everyone, but it’s especially difficult for those dealing with unemployment, financial debt, or other financial concerns. The added cost of gifts, food, and travel can significantly strain your budget. This financial stress can seriously impact your mental and physical health.
5. Overwhelming Responsibilities
Christmas can be stressful and overwhelming, with numerous responsibilities vying for your attention. Between shopping, cooking, and hosting parties, it’s easy to feel exhausted and irritable, making coping with stress even more difficult.
6. Family Dynamics
Sometimes, family dynamics are the major source of stress during Christmas. The existing family conflict or tension might turn a peaceful gathering into an argumentative mess. Besides, it’s hard to enjoy Christmas when you have to walk on eggshells with certain family members.
7. Loneliness and Isolation
The holidays can be tough for singles, divorcees, and those who are separated. For individuals who already experience sadness and loneliness, the holidays can intensify these feelings. It is often due to the absence of loved ones who are no longer in their lives or feel excluded while others are busy celebrating with their families.
8. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Cold weather and less exposure to sunlight can significantly affect mood and energy levels, leading to seasonal affective disorder, where people feel depressed during fall or winter.
9. Physical and Mental Health Problems
When dealing with pre-existing physical or mental health problems, coping with additional holiday stress might be challenging. Therefore, people with pre-existing health conditions, chronic illnesses, or mental disorders are more likely to experience depression.
Risk Factors for Developing Christmas Depression
Some of the risk factors for the development of Christmas depression are:
1. Personal or Family Mental Health History
Personal or family history of depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions can significantly increase the risk of developing Christmas depression. In fact, people with mental health conditions are more vulnerable to the emotional stressors of the Christmas season.
2. Recent Loss or Grief
For those who have recently experienced loss or grief, the festive season can serve as a stark reminder of what they may no longer have, increasing susceptibility to Christmas depression.
3. Loneliness and Isolation
The Christmas season can often make people feel lonely and isolated, particularly if they cannot be with their loved ones or have fewer people around them. Christmas can put our connections and relationships under a spotlight, and deprivation can aggravate the intensity of these feelings.
4. Stressful Life Events
For some, Christmas brings happiness, while for others, it can bring abundant stress, such as financial, social, emotional, and physical. On top of that, we put lots of pressure on ourselves to achieve a picture-perfect Christmas.
5. Family Conflict /Dysfunction
When everyone else is surrounded by happy, wholesome families, enjoying a fun-filled time during Christmas, it is disheartening to find yourself in the middle of a family feud or dealing with divorced parents. In such situations, it can increase the feeling of isolation and make it easier to experience Christmas depression.
6. Substance Abuse
Some people turn to alcohol or other substances during Christmas to cope with the stressors, which can exacerbate the symptoms of Christmas depression. While this approach may offer temporary relief, it can ultimately worsen the underlying symptoms of depression.
7. Disconnection from Social Events & Activities
Social events and activities can give you a sense of belonging, connection, and joy. However, avoiding these gatherings may intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation, potentially leading to Christmas depression.
8. Negative Thinking or Attitudes
Negative thinking patterns or attitudes, such as self-criticism, pessimism, and unrealistic expectations, can undermine your mental well-being, increasing susceptibility to depressive feelings.
9. Chronic Stress or Illness
Chronic stress, whether from work, relationships, or ongoing health issues, can exceed your ability and capacity to cope with additional holiday stressors, making you more vulnerable to the risk of developing Christmas depression.
Preventing Christmas Depression: Psychologist’s Expert Tips and Advice
Here are some tips and advice that you can follow to prevent Christmas depression:
1. Setting Realistic Expectations
Social media and TV ads are the main culprits behind setting up unrealistic ‘picture-perfect’ Christmas goals. While chasing unrealistic expectations, you put heaps of pressure on yourself and those around you, ultimately leading to disappointment. So, instead of getting fixated on perfection, learn to find happiness in imperfections and small moments.
2. Focusing on Self-Care
The holiday season often brings physical and emotional challenges. If you feel overwhelmed, step back and engage in self-care activities like exercise or meditation. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to compromise your mental healthcare routine.
3. Nurturing Social Connections
Even if you are far from your friends and family, try to stay in touch with them through phone or social media. Spend as much time as possible with your loved ones during Christmas to prevent Christmas blues.
Volunteering is a great way to connect with people, making you feel good about yourself for helping your community.
5. Let Go of the Past
Don’t dwell on negative experiences from past holidays; try to look at things with a positive outlook.
6. Make a Holiday Budget
To prevent impulse purchases or overspending, create a holiday budget and stick to it. Additionally, consider shopping early to avoid crowds and resist the urge to make panic purchases.
7. Limit Social Media Use
People tend to showcase only the perfect part of their lives on social media, which can foster unrealistic expectations and prompt comparison. It can trigger your feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction. Instead of these comparisons, prioritise real-life interaction and connection.
In addition, research studies suggest limiting the use of social media daily to at least 30 minutes can significantly improve your well-being.
8. Limit Alcohol
It’s quite evident that the alcohol consumption level increases significantly during Christmas. Avoid overindulging in alcohol as a way to numb emotional distress. While it may provide temporary relief, in the long run, it can aggravate symptoms of depression. So, drink moderately to protect your well-being.
9. Soak More Sunlight
The lack of sunlight exposure in winter can lead to vitamin D deficiency, potentially triggering Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To prevent this, spend some time outdoors and bask in the sun to absorb vitamin D. Not only does this practice help prevent SAD, but it also boosts serotonin levels, which can aid in combating symptoms of depression.
10. Ask for Help
Instead of isolating yourself and avoiding friends and family, try to reach out and share what you are going through. Lean on them for support during challenging times.
11. Don’t over-commit and Start Saying No
Remember, you don’t have to do things you don’t want to. It’s completely fine; doing so will only add extra stress. Set boundaries and prioritise yourself first before anyone else.
12. Go to Events You Enjoy
Rather than attending events you feel obligated to, focus on attending events that genuinely bring you joy.
Supporting Loved Ones with Christmas Depression
If your loved ones are suffering from Christmas depression, here are some ways you can support them:
1. Encourage Open Conversation
Sometimes, a person truly needs a shoulder to lean on during tough times. So, why not be that person for your loved one? Start by creating a space where they feel comfortable opening up to you. And let them know that you’re there to listen without offering unwanted advice or attempting to solve their problems.
2. Check in Regularly
Individuals struggling with depression often tend to withdraw and isolate themselves. So, it’s of utmost importance to check in on them; you can offer support by reaching out to them and showing that you’re there for them.
3. Respect Their Boundaries
It’s natural to want to spend time and engage in activities with your loved ones. However, it’s important to remember that each person has needs and limitations. Instead of pushing your loved one to participate in activities they don’t feel up to, why not ask them what they would like to do? Encourage them to take time for themselves and let them know it’s okay to say no.
4. Suggest Professional Help
If your loved one’s symptoms are persistent and severe, let them know that they don’t have to go through it alone. Gently suggest seeking professional help and remind them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
5. Offer Practical Assistance
When dealing with depression, even a simple task can feel overwhelming. Everything can seem like an unconquerable quest, from mundane household chores to cooking meals. By offering your help, you can ease their burden and make their life a little easier.
Coping Strategies for Managing Christmas Depression
Some of the coping strategies to manage Christmas depression include:
1. Psychological Approaches
It helps manage problems by changing negative thoughts and behaviours, making it a great option for tackling holiday stress. With CBT, you’ll learn to identify and challenge unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Mindfulness-based therapy teaches us to be present in the moment and acknowledge thoughts and feelings without any judgments. It is one of the most effective ways to manage stress and anxiety, ultimately contributing to overall well-being.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
It encourages us to acknowledge and accept difficult thoughts and feelings and commit to living a meaningful life despite them. It can be especially useful for people experiencing Christmas depression who may be struggling with feelings of shame and guilt.
2. Lifestyle changes (e.g., diet, exercise, sleep)
Exercising is an excellent method to boost mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep. To fully reap the benefits of exercising, consistently participate in moderate-intensity exercises for at least 30 minutes daily.
Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night is important for your physical and mental well-being.
Research studies suggest that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and eliminating pro-inflammatory foods like junk food, fast food, and high meat intake reduces the risk of developing depression.
3. Stress management techniques
You can alleviate anxiety and stress by practising relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
Creating a to-do list can help you stay organised and focused. Remember to break down large tasks into smaller, manageable portions and prioritise them accordingly.
Remember, saying no to things you don’t have time and energy for is okay. Don’t pressure yourself to attend every single gathering or do everything for others.
Taking a Break
During the chaotic Christmas season, feeling your energy draining is normal. Give yourself a break and step away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas to recharge your energy.
Get Professional Help for Christmas Depression at Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre
Rediscover the warmth of the holiday season with Vancouver Counselling Centre, Thrive Downtown. Our compassionate counsellors provide personalized support to guide you through your challenges. During the holiday season, it’s common to experience a wide range of emotions, whether it’s related to family dynamics, stress, grief, or other personal challenges. So, our experienced therapists are here to offer you a safe and welcoming space for healing and growth.
Whether you prefer group or individual one-on-one counselling sessions, we tailor our services to your unique needs. Our compassionate therapists are dedicated to providing you with the support and guidance necessary to navigate through these emotions and challenges. You are welcome to schedule your consultation today and take the first step towards healing and joy this holiday season.
Christmas, often known as “the happiest time of the year,” may be surrounded by loneliness and conflict, especially for people struggling with depression. Mental health conditions cannot disappear overnight just because it’s Christmas. It’s okay to feel like you cannot get under the joyful spirit of Christmas like everyone else. If you’re struggling with Christmas depression, remember that you’re not alone; there are people out there experiencing similar feelings, and there is help available.
Christmas Depression FAQs
1. Why does Christmas make me sad?
Some of the reasons why Christmas can evoke sadness are:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Past traumatic experience
- Nostalgia for what once was
- Financial stress
2. How to get in the Christmas spirit when depressed?
Getting into the Christmas spirit when depressed is easier said than done. However, there are lots of ways to feel better, some of them include:
- Focus on good things in your life
- Stop worrying about things that are beyond your control
- Set realistic expectations for Christmas
- Reach out to your friends and family for support
- Avoid overspending on an expensive budget that is above your budget
- Seek professional help
3. Is Christmas blues a real thing?
Yes, Christmas blues is a real phenomenon. It refers to feelings of sadness, emptiness, stress, or anxiety, often arising from the pressure and expectations surrounding Christmas.
4. Why is Christmas triggering?
Christmas can trigger negative emotions in some people. Some of the reasons for it include:
- Past traumatic incidents
- Unresolved grief
- Pressure to meet societal expectations
- Family conflicts
- Financial stress
5. What is the name of Christmas depression?
Christmas depression is not a clinical term and does not have a specific name in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, people often call it “Christmas blues” or “Holiday blues.”
6. How many people are depressed on Christmas?
A recent survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that the holiday season worsened the condition of approximately 64% of individuals with mental illness. It can be due to many factors, such as pressure to appear happy and joyous, financial strain, feelings of isolation, and the weight of societal expectations.
7. What is Christmas fatigue?
Christmas fatigue is the feeling of exhaustion and weariness caused by immense pressure and stress during the holiday season, which may include:
- Expectations to meet societal obligations
- Emotional strain from dealing with difficult family members
- Pressure to buy expensive gifts, cook food, and decorate
- Financial burden
8. Is it okay to feel sad at Christmas?
Although Christmas might be the most joyous time of the year, the reality is it doesn’t stop individuals from experiencing depression. The constant pressure to achieve a perfect and happy Christmas can lead us to compare ourselves to others, which is imperfect. It’s difficult to face the stark differences between our lives and the idealised version, which can leave us feeling sad and inadequate rather than grateful for what we have.
9. Is Christmas anxiety a thing?
Yes, Christmas anxiety is a real phenomenon that can affect people of all ages. Although many people consider Christmas to be the happiest time of the year, it can also trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression for some. It is usually due to the pressure to create a perfect Christmas or meet societal expectations.
10. Is it normal to feel overwhelmed at Christmas?
Yes, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at Christmas. While the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, work pressure, family life, and the current cost of living crisis can easily take a toll on our festive spirit, leaving us overwhelmed. But let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas – cherishing every moment with your loved ones.
Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.