The holidays can be a wonderful time to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. For many, the nature of the season - the color scheme, the music, and all gatherings - all contribute to a sense of love and joy. For those struggling with depression, it can trigger a deeper sense of emotional pain and isolation.
Some say seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is to blame. While this disorder is a real type of depression that should not be discounted, not everyone who experiences increased depression around the holidays suffers from SAD.
Others point to increased stress around the holidays due to exorbitant expectations of how "perfectly happy" we should all feel during this festive time of year. A more modern view asserts that mass and social media posts depicting perfect moments - such as a magical snowfall on Christmas Eve - can make us more depressed than before viewing them.
Still, what triggers increased depression around the holidays is typically more complicated than one singular answer; rather, the causes of heightened depression around the holidays likely lie in some mix of these factors, along with several others.
The Excesses of the Holiday Season: Eating and Drinking
Unfortunately, the foods we typically indulge in during the holiday season are high-calorie and loaded with sugars and fats. They often lack the nutrients that our bodies need to function at their best. For this reason, it can be difficult for a person who struggles with depression to feel their best when they eat poorly during the holiday season.
Alcohol is another substance that many people tend to overindulge in around the holidays. While many of us have no problem enjoying a glass of wine or a beer on Christmas Eve, others use alcohol to escape from feelings of stress, anxiety, and loneliness that often come up during this time of year. Yet, these "quick fixes" tend to cause more emotional – not to mention physical – strain.
It's no surprise that money can add stress during the holidays. Many people struggle financially due to spending more on holiday gifts for friends and family members and expensive travel costs. Protect your mental health this year by not overdoing it and creating another burden of financial stress.
People who live alone or have less frequent contact with family members are more likely to feel lonely during the holidays. Those who have lost loved ones may experience other triggers, such as their first Christmas without that person.
It's not uncommon for people to feel disappointed and stressed out if their holiday expectations fail to match up with reality. Sometimes traditions change over the years, or things suddenly arise and throw a wrench in our plans.
Facing unmet expectations during the holidays can be frustrating and painful, particularly when comparing our experiences to those around us. We might feel like something is wrong or missing in our lives when others seem so happy and "put together" during the holidays. This combination of feelings often results in sadness, loneliness, and anxiety.
Don't let unrealistic ideals add more burdens to your already taxing holiday season. Instead, try focusing on what's right in your own life and be grateful for the good things you do have.
If you are struggling with heightened depression symptoms, it is important to be proactive about your mental health during this time. Seek out support from loved ones, professionals, or online support groups. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to have the "perfect" holiday season, and remember that your mental health is more important than any holiday celebration. We're here for you!