For many people across the world, the holiday season marks the most exciting time of the year, but this joy is not always universal. For many, the holidays can heighten feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. If you or a loved one falls into this category, you may be asking yourself whether it’s normal to feel sadness during the holiday season or whether something deeper is wrong.
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“Holiday Depression” or “Holiday Blues” are both common terms. They describe feelings of sadness that hit from the middle of November until the first week of January. However, most mental health counselors do not recognize these terms. Instead, most professionals look at how this season can amplify underlying feelings of depression and anxiety. There is often an underlying trigger, and it is absolutely normal to experience sadness during the holidays.
Celebrations and Family
Celebrations with gifts and family are a source of joy for many. For others, the tradition of giving presents during this season can highlight financial difficulties. It can also amplify feelings of inadequacy and comparison. The focus on family can bring on feelings of loneliness for those that have lost loved ones. Those who are single or who lack strong family bonds or friendships may also struggle during this time. These are all legitimate reasons for feeling sad, and we encourage you to allow your feelings fully.
It’s important to remember that the holiday season also arrives right in the middle of the darkest and coldest months for much of the world. The days are shorter, and the sunlight is significantly less. This season happens to coincide with the time when many people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), largely due to the lack of sunlight. Not only can holiday festivities trigger more severe symptoms of SAD, but they can also trigger those with underlying clinical conditions like anxiety and depression, whether diagnosed or not. If you feel sad well past the holiday months, or these feelings impact your ability to function from day to day, it’s important to talk to a professional to make sure there are no underlying mental health issues.
What to Do About Sadness During the Holiday Season
Regardless of the underlying reasons for feeling sad, there are several ways that you can combat the negative effects. Clinical mental health writer and physician Kristen Fuller, M.D. suggests setting up realistic expectations for the season. Consider skipping holiday parties where you know these feelings will be heightened. Find holiday traditions that you can enjoy on your own to help remove situations that intensify your sadness. Wherever possible, find ways to enjoy the holidays in new ways, such as starting new traditions with hand-made gifts, placing a price limit on gift-giving, or showing gratitude in other ways like volunteering to serve others throughout the season.
In the end, try to remember that the season is temporary. The situations that trigger you to feel sad will pass, the days will get longer and warmer, and you’ll have the new year to celebrate new beginnings and to set new personal goals to grow stronger and be more prepared and resilient for next year.
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