Anxiety and Depression During the Holidays

anxiety and depression during the holidays stress down sad christmas hanukkah family

The holidays are supposed to be joyous - so it can be even harder to talk about depression and anxiety at this time

What are some reasons for the spike in anxiety and depression during the holidays? 

Being Single:

Romance and the holiday season seem to go hand in hand. Practically every holiday movie is focused on a love story, and there are plenty of commercials depicting families and romantic partners. During the holidays, people celebrate with various types of get-togethers and celebratory parties. Each commercial or movie can be a reminder that you don’t have a partner; and each invitation a reminder that you are going alone. The lack of a romantic partner can be painful and the feelings of loneliness gets stronger and more overwhelming.  

Being single can often be overlooked and not discussed during the holidays.  People may not mention to their friends that they aren’t attending the party because they don’t have a date. The emotions of fear, shame, or loneliness are extremely painful for those without an intimate partner. 

Loss of a Loved One:

Depression during the holidays is also impacted by the constant reminder that your loved one is no longer alive. Doing the same traditions without out them can be difficult, and starting new traditions may feel like you are leaving them behind. The change in family dynamics and holiday traditions are painful. Holidays are a special time with tradition, community, and family connection. It is extremely common to have sadness and grief around the holidays due to the loss of a loved one. Sadness, anger, and numbness can arise. The constant “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” come up, and the memories flood in, and the pain hits hard.

Strained Family Relations:

Not everyone feels comfortable and safe with their families. So, going home for the holidays can bring with it a lot of anxiety. Many people struggle with painful family feuds where it ended in a complete relationship cut-off. The wounds may take years to heal and each year the holidays can bring up the broken heart and the emptiness people have with their families.  Blood may be thick, but the wounds caused by family members can be thicker. 

Financial Strain:

Another reason people face depression during the holidays is when money is tight; and there can be a lot of anxiety surrounding finances at this time. The inability to exchange gifts or bring a side dish for the pot luck can become overwhelming. Often, people will opt out or miss out on joining activities during this time because of finances; and this isolation can bring them down even more. People often will not tell their friends or family that they cannot attend activities due to finances, or that they won’t come to a celebration because gifts are expected and they don’t have the funds. During the holidays, the feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem can take a nose dive for the worse. 

So what can you do to combat this?

Don’t Isolate or Hibernate:

Even though all you may want to do is isolate, hibernate, and avoid people, it can actually back fire and cause more loneliness and depression during the holidays. Just getting out of the house is a good start if you’ve found you have already started to hibernate. Take a walk to the store or coffee shop during the day to get some sun, exercise, and interactions with others. Say yes to at least one invitation, even if you don’t want to. Instead of isolating, spend time with your friends, coworkers, and/or family.  Better yet, volunteer your time to give back to community. Not only will you be helping yourself feel better, you will also be helping others – it is a win-win.  

Talk About It:

If you are having problems with someone in your life, talk about it. Pretending everything is fine does not give you time to heal or repair relationships. Talk about how the problems are impacted by the holidays, and how the holidays are impacted by the problems. The more you can make sense of what is going on, the more you can take control and enjoy this time. 

Family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors aren’t typically trained on how to have the talk about depression and how it is impacted during the holidays. However, reaching out and letting your loved ones you need support can help you get through this time. Again, pretending like everything is fine is not going to help, and this includes talking about yourself. If you don’t talk about it, you won’t be able to address it. The more you talk about your depression or anxiety, the more power you take away from it. If you are struggling, let a close friend or family member know, and consider seeking professional help. Set up a check-in system with a friend or family member so you will have someone reaching out to you over the holidays. 

In the Moment Coping:

To get through the holidays, it is important to have some coping strategies in mind for when you are joining in the holiday get-togethers.

Phone a friend:

If you are filled with anxiety or deep sadness, call a friend immediately. It is better to have someone on the other side of the phone rather than being alone. If you are depressed, or feel depressed around the holidays, set up a check-in system with a friend. Contact each other each day to remind each other that you are supported and not alone. Make time meet up in person with a close friend during this time. 

If symptoms are severe and you are suicidal, call 911.   

Grounding:

Using grounding techniques can help take you from feeling out of touch with yourself and back into the moment. With anxiety, you often feel like our thoughts are flooding through our minds and it can become overwhelming. With depression, you can feel so out of touch with yourself you feel numb. Grounding techniques help bring us back to the moment and bring us back to ourselves. 

  • Do a guided meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
    • Breathe in for 5 seconds, pause for 4, breathe out for 7
  • Take a moment to take in your five senses:
    • Name 5 things you see
    • Name 4 things you can touch
    • Name 3 things you can hear
    • Name 2 things you can smell
    • Name 1 thing you can taste
  • Pop bubble wrap or blow bubbles and try to think only of what you are doing.
  • Listen to your favourite song – paying attention to each instrument and again try to think only of this song.
  • Light a candle and focus on the smell and watch the flame flicker. (Lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus all are known for having calming properties.

Avoid the Booze!

Alcohol is deceiving.  It gives temporary relief, yet is a depressant and makes things worse. Try to either decrease or avoid alcohol while you are getting through the holidays. 

Write it Out

Sometimes it is difficult to figure out exactly why you feel anxious or depressed.  Writing about your feelings can help you understand it better. It can also act as a release valve letting out some steam.  It is a healthy way to deal with your emotions. 

Anxiety and depression during the holidays can be tough, setting up an appointment with a therapist can help you get through it. 

About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653