Christmas Depression – Does Christmas Get You Down?

Christmas time is the most likely time of the year to experience depression. The suicide rate is higher during December than any other month, which tells us that Christmas depression should be taken quite seriously. Depression at Christmas time can be triggered by a multitude of things, such as losses, failures, and loneliness. These elements are exacerbated this time of year. People who have had deaths in the family or have experienced divorce or the loss of a child are more prone to depression, especially during the holiday season.

It can be especially difficult to cope with a Christmas depression because everyone else seems so joyous, so reaching out feels more awkward and more remote. We don’t want to bring down those around us, we don’t want to feel “different” or alienate ourselves, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves either. We tend to disassociate ourselves from our own feelings and ask ourselves self defeating questions. We wonder what’s wrong with us and why we can’t just jump right on into the holiday cheer. This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year and yet we can barely drag ourselves out of bed and become functional human beings. On top of feeling sad and dysfunctional, we feel out of place, and somehow illegitimate in our feelings.

Not all holiday depression has anything to do with loss or failure or death, or even anything obvious. Sometimes people tend to just get depressed around the holidays. Yet those without an obvious “reason” feel that they really shouldn’t be depressed and are least likely to reach out for help. It’s as though people who have experienced trauma have more of a “right” to experience holiday depression than those who appear to have everything that could need or want.

People fail to recognize that holidays are stressful enough to trigger a depression. Sometimes the hustle and bustle and the need to produce (food, presents, parties, and the lot) are enough to seriously frustrate a person right into a depression. Feeling disconnected with the holidays can easily lead to a mild to moderate depression.

Whether dealing with a loss or change or simply feeling overwhelmed by holiday sadness, the number one most important thing anyone can do is to tell someone. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Over the past ten years there has been a great awakening, so to speak, that has illuminated the issue of Christmas depression. People have become more educated and more understanding about the phenomenon and often already know that someone they love is suffering from depression before there is any actual confession.

If you are alone at Christmastime and you realize that you are coming down with holiday depression, reach out to someone by phone, whether it is a friend, a relative, or a professional, just call someone. This is so important. There is nothing to be ashamed of and there are plenty of people willing and able to assist you. A bad moment (even a really long one that last several weeks) does not have to ruin a future. Unfortunately people who find themselves depressed and do nothing about it are prone to staying depressed. Depression can interfere with job performance, friendships, romantic relationships, parenting ability, self care, and even the ability to take care of the dog. It can lead to losses of these very important things if the depression becomes serious enough.

The onset of Christmas depression can sneak up on you in numerous forms. You may simply start to feel more tired than normal or start sleeping through the alarm. You may procrastinate on holiday shopping, even when those events that require your participation are only a few days away. You may start to feel randomly irritable, or snap at people without provocation. You may start to feel disconnected with the world and withdraw from those around you, even children. These are all signs that you are experiencing at least some form of holiday depression, and warning signs that you may need help in dealing with whatever is making you feel this way.

Dealing with a holiday depression once you are able to recognize it is a vital step in returning to a better state of health. Naturally, my first recommendation is that you find a good counselor to speak with. The onset of holiday depression doesn’t have to mean that you require long term counseling or even medication. It may just mean you have to learn to set better boundaries or learn to let go of the past or learn better coping skills when it comes to dealing with a tragedy. Nothing that you are experiencing is so terribly abnormal, and no one is going to react terribly to you if you ask for help.

A good counselor can help you learn to set “holiday boundaries” while you are coping with holiday depression. “Holiday boundaries” include things like limiting the number of holiday party invitations you and your family accept, scaling down Christmas to a level that feels more reasonable to everyone, asking for help in the Christmas preparations, and perhaps dealing a little differently with the specific tasks that tend to depress you more. If wrapping presents creates a huge sadness in you because it triggers and emotion or a memory, then perhaps you can get a significant other, an older child, or another relative to help you so that you don’t have to wrap nearly as many. Sometimes just doing it with someone is enough to help keep your depression away.

A Christmas depression is usually more than just a simple case of the holiday blues, and it really should be treated with more respect than that. It is better to go to a counselor and have them tell you that you just have the “blues” and it will pass than to sit on a serious depression and slowly watch your world around you disassemble. A holiday depression requires attention, especially one that develops annually. While it may seem logical to believe that because it happens every year that it will just keep leaving every year isn’t logic that should be counted on when help is so readily available.



21 Responses

  1. I think you’d do well to leave the word ‘failure’ out of this. It doesn’t help and can be easily applied to the less self depreciating term ‘loss’.

  2. I get really downhearted and low in spirits every year and I have been like this for over 17 years now.

    I am depressed because of my mother forcing me to buy cards for a sister who is closer to outsiders than she has ever been to me.

    She sails through life without obstacles and hurdles.

  3. This article gives the impression that if you choose not to participate in Christmas festivities and find it annoying or depressing that something is wrong with you?? Christmas depresses and frustrates me because most people are sooo materialistic and all the media advertising etc is sickening to me. I don’t think it’s abnormal to feel that way in today’s society in fact to me it seems more reasonable imo

    1. Focus instead on those with good Christmas hearts. If you do not then you may be putting an dark cloud over ‘others’ heads.

      Greet people with an heart felt: “Merry Christmas”.

      Go to your local Church. Take an seat and find your Christmas heart.

  4. I literally DREAD the holidays and let me tell you why. FAMILY. Or lack of. They are disconnected and dysfunctional.
    Me and my husband and our dogs do our own thing yet it HURTS to watch others with their perfect families gather around the Norman Rockwell turkey dinner while we have our turkey meal from Safeway. Plus its SO commercial now and the true meaning- birth of Christ- is barely celebrated. I know i know- christmas is what you make it. Id like to make it disappear and Dec 26 i wake up happy. To all of you who have a functioning family i wish you a Merry Christmas but to be sensitive to us who are suffering through the season as you walk the Mall and celebrate the season. All the best to all😊

    1. I feel the same way. If you live in NJ come visit us, we would love company. And we love dogs.

      My biggest reason for Christmas depression is everyone is dead.

      1. Downside of Christmas: Lots of work, Unrealistic expectations, Travel insanity, Complex social interactions possibly involving crying, screaming, and slammed doors, Mall rudeness, Shitty music, Relentless advertising, Exacerbation of loneliness and loss, Status competition & envy, Thankless giftees, Unhealthy coping (e.g. drinking), Credit card spending, Tedium & ambivalence, Weight gain, Hype & disappointment, Charities begging, and Guilt Did I get all the downsides? And to top it all off, it turned out there’s No Santa Claus, no something-for-nothing.

        Upside of Christmas: Something fun to do in the darkest part of the year, Lots to do & see, Creativity (baking, decorating etc.), Beloved rituals (e.g. GVCC Christmas Lights Ride), some truly exquisite music if you look for it (Gospel, Jazz, Classical, Choral, Folk, Religious…), a chance to sing out loud, Epicurean delights, Solstice (the days are now getting longer), Hygge (hot chocolate and cozy fires and the hush of falling snow and all that stuff), Fun (silly-decorating the office), Socializing, heartfelt Charity, and Gift giving in the context of family affection. Or whatever YOUR favourite parts are.

        So, embrace the good stuff and cut out the bad. Practice MINDFULLNESS. And if you don’t know Mindfullness, learn it: the ability to choose whether or not to jump into the river of unhappiness and be carried away waving your arms. Let go of the (sad) story. Again and again and again. Feel the feelings: if you sit with them they will go away–IF you let go of the story. Depression often starts as a HABIT, a bad habit of toxic thoughts, and is maintained by rumination & avoidance.

        Merry Christmas

        1. I must laugh.

          If you are doing all that – then you are so rich. Why? Because you have people around you to share this wonderful time of year. That is not work! It is an tremendous delight. You will look back some day and wish you can do it all over again.

          Merrrrrrry Christmas to you.

          P.S. – get yourself an bundle of those Pine cones with the holiday fragrance. Aroma therapy works.
          And an smile.

        2. Kwitshadie, I don’t think you get it. Depression is as real a medical condition as a broken leg. If your leg is broken, you don’t just think about the parts of your body that don’t hurt and expect that to make your leg feel better. Likewise, if you are depressed, thinking happy thoughts (if you can) just isn’t guaranteed to work. Often, it only makes things worse, either because you know the happy thoughts aren’t consistent with your reality; or, if they are, it may only compound the guilt of your lack of appreciation for how good you have it, other than the depression, of course.
          I am happy for you if you can erase holiday depression by “mindfulness,” because that means you don’t really have it. If you did have it, you’d be talking about BEING in the river of unhappiness, not deciding whether or not to jump in. And it’s not a river that you simply wade to shore, once you find yourself in it.. It’s not even a river you can avoid falling into.
          For what it’s worth for anybody truly suffering from holiday depression, I’ve come to view it as a virus. It’s miserable, but you just temper your expectations and get over it in time. Sometimes it’s best to accept reality.

      2. Are they dead because they came to visit you….? Just wondering…. oh please, have a sense of humour, I am depressed
        and it is Christmas and my daughter is visiting and running my house my life and spilling toxic all over the place. I just
        want to laugh and god forbid I laugh at her! I would never see my grandchild again…yes, she is one of those!

        Please join with others that are having a bad time and play games, ignore family and have some fun! And pray a little
        to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

    2. The trouble is Mia, Christmas brings a real anti-climax as new year celebrations are not very far away,and yet for so many years its been the same.I think the best remedy for Christmas holiday blues is not to get so mentally or emotionally involved,or not at all,as this prevents depression triggers.Also think of a hobby or activity that you really enjoy,it can be anything and do it all year round,it never fails! My great activity is cycling,and I have been doing it for 23.5 years and I record each trip I do,I have done almost 101,000 miles and what great results its had! Christmas holiday blues are based on old habits,of emotion.If you put this plan into action you will be happy all year round,but I have solved the mystery of this,after many years of trial and error,I hope this helps you.

  5. no…people do fail, and their failures can contribute to depression whether the failure is their fault or not. Failure is not the same as loss.

  6. Agreed
    We, too, have an emotionally & mentally oppressive family.
    Depressed at this very moment.
    Getting fired, losing my K9 partner, hasn’t helped.

  7. My In laws have made my life miserable. Yet I have my wife stuck in the middle. I wish the family can be close but it will never be. It breaks my heart to have problems in the family. Christmas is just a reminder of no friends and a poor family situation. I listen to sad songs because that is how I feel. Hard Candy Christmas by Dolly Parton is a song I play over and over.

  8. I think not participating in christmas should be normalized, without needing to have another religious holiday as a reason or “excuse”. People should be allowed to simply not celebrate.
    I get the intent in the compromises described, about having company and help in order to participate in the holidays, but those compromises would only apply to those who do indeed wish to attend.
    For those who don’t attend, much of the stress ends up originating from the expectation others set up, and the inevitable disappointment they express after one doesn’t show up for the holidays.
    I don’t mind the holidays themselves, as much as I mind the supposed obligation of participating most people are set up with, and the following guilt for having somehow let closed ones down.

  9. you all sound so self ingulfed. Christmas is not about you, its about the life you share, or choose to with other people. Most especially its about children. I find it hard to empathize with people that are so miserable for no good reason . Think of other people and try to realize how lucky you are.

  10. C

    Christmas comes with a lot of obligations. I need to be cleaning up my yard, cleaning my car, cleaning the house.
    Instead, I’m in here cooking, buying, and just trying to fake
    my way through. I appreciate that it’s to celebrate the Christ child and that’s about all I appreciate. Family I love, well, they
    don’t make efforts to do Christmas outside of their own immediate family. Nobody wants to pitch in anymore and bring casseroles or wash a dish. Where’s the fun in that?
    We are a selfish people and it shows.

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