Do the “Holiday Blues” Have You Feeling Not So Merry?

The holiday season is officially underway, and it is typically a cheerful time when people can relax and see family and friends.

However, for many people, the holidays can trigger depression and anxiety, which is commonly referred to as the “holiday blues.”

One cause of the “holiday blues” is a change in the weather, drops in temperature and reduction in daylight. But these changes may also contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of major depression that is estimated to affect more than 10 million people, and it most commonly affects women living far from the equator, beginning around age 20, according to Psychology Today.

Living somewhere such as Northeast Ohio with harsh winters can cause people to feel tired, moody and irritable, which are all symptoms of SAD.

The World Health Organization estimates 350,000,000 people worldwide suffer from depression. Even though the “holiday blues” may not always be because of depression, it is important to learn the warning signs to know if it is more serious.

“It is important to remember that people experiencing ‘holiday blues’ may not necessarily be depressed,” says Carrie Berta, Psy.D., staff psychologist at University Health Services. “If you find that the sadness or anxiety persists beyond a sense of dreading the holidays, if you are feeling blue for more than two weeks or if symptoms start to interfere with daily life, consider seeking help from a professional.”

Berta says that some aspects of the holidays that may contribute to distress include:

  • Financial pressure to purchase gifts and make the holidays “perfect.”
  • Unrealistic expectations for the holidays, influenced by movies and media (e.g., “the most wonderful time of the year”).
  • Limited daylight, which can make us lethargic and less inclined to exercise.
  • Overscheduling with social and other commitments.
  • Overeating, as holiday celebrations are often planned around meals and food.
  • Family stressors, from the memories of loved ones lost, disappointing family events to conflicts among family members.
  • Feelings of isolation, as some do not have people to celebrate with.
  • Feeling “let down” after festivities and holidays have concluded.

Tips for Dealing With Holiday Depression

“If you are noticing that you are feeling down or blue for two weeks or longer, focus on taking care of yourself – getting enough sleep, taking time to relax and do things that you enjoy, and eating healthily,” Berta says. “Try to limit the amount of alcohol that you consume, as alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate depressive symptoms. Access your support system so that you are not alone in dealing with these feelings. Physical activity can also promote positive mental health.”

In addition to being aware of these symptoms in yourself, it is also important to be aware of friends and family members who may be dealing with the “holiday blues.”

“Listen to your friend or family member in a nonjudgmental and empathic manner,” Berta says. “Share your concern and be supportive, and do your best to convey a sense of hope. While you can be a source of support, also be aware of your own limitations and encourage them to seek help.”

For more information about mental health resources at your campus location, visit Step Up and Speak Out. Kent State employees can use the Impact Employee Assistance and Work/Life Program 24 hours per day. 

POSTED: Thursday, December 10, 2015 10:39 AM
Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2022 01:02 AM
Hanna Moore