Combating Holiday Depression: 6 Tips

You’re listening to the radio and the sounds of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” pours out to you. You’re in the shopping mall and you walk by kids lining up to sit on Santa’s lap. You visit a friend, whose kitchen smells of cinnamon and sugar.

And yet, as these sights, sounds and smells remind you of the holiday traditions of years ago, you may find yourself fighting off the chronic emotional pain known as ‘holiday blues’.

Holidays often result in our getting in more in touch with our sadness and anger than at other times of the year, causing the darker, ‘blue’ mood during or prior to the holidays. This is due to a multitude of reasons.

1. Santa myth. Many of us, as adults, still carry an unconscious fantasy known as the ‘Santa Myth’. We continue to expect the day that was perfect for us in our childhood, when we still believed in Santa. As adults, we feel sad and disappointed when we do not experience the ‘perfect’ day and receive the ultimate gift, or when our holiday falls short of those depicted in Hollywood musicals.

2. Acting out unresolved conflicts. Any unresolved upset feelings with family can negatively influence our happiness over the holidays. Grudges are carried over, leading to resentments and misinterpretations.

3. Grieving a loss. Anyone who has experienced a loss, either recently or in the past, may feel especially sad leading up to, during and following the holidays. The more recent the loss, the more incomplete one’s grieving and the stronger one’s attachment to the loved one, the greater one’s sadness will be. Such losses can include a new move, divorce, loss of job, or a death in the family.

4. Unrealistic expectations of family. How quickly we forget that dad is very dogmatic and opinionated. Or that when Aunt Sue drinks too much, which is often, she isn’t funny but is rather nasty. Or that her children are completely undisciplined, bully the cousins and damage your home.

5. Parents not accepting growth and change. Parents may subconsciously strive for the holidays of years ago, and have difficulty accepting their children’s maturity and autonomy. Siblings come back into the fold and pick up unresolved conflicts, marring the family harmony.

6. Guilt at not doing enough. This can be in the form of not spending as much as you might have wished on a gift this year, or not cooking enough special food.

The key to successfully combating holiday depression is to put everything in perspective. Recognize that conflict can be healthy if the issues are brought out in the open, because they can then be addressed and dealt with. Strive to pace yourself and schedule in time for personal relaxation, exercise and sleep. If you are experiencing a loss, give yourself permission to step aside from some of the festivities if you wish, while surrounding yourself with a strong support system.

Don’t strive to have a Hallmark holiday. Instead, have a real one, with real people, real feelings, and the real desire to be together despite everyone’s imperfections.

Photo from

Eileen Lenson