Managing depression during the holidays

Senior man in winter clothes touching his temples


4 min read

Some say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for those suffering from depression, the holidays can be especially challenging. The following tips can help you cope with managing this condition throughout the holidays.

  • Recognize that you’re not alone. Depression may make you feel isolated, but consider this: according to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder affects about 14.8 million Americans each year.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t try to force yourself to be happy because it’s the holidays, or because you feel pressure from loved ones to be happy. Take time to express your feelings, including those of sadness and grief. If you feel like you need to cry, cry.
  • Reach out for support. You don’t have to go through it alone. Seek support from understanding friends and loved ones, or those in your community or religious organization. If you have access to an EAP program through your employer, call to access telephonic counseling. Or, consider making an in-person appointment to talk with a counselor.
  • Plan your schedule carefully. Depression may take a toll on your energy. Prioritize your social invitations. RSVP yes to those you really want to attend, and don’t be afraid to decline invitations for functions you don’t want to go to, or don’t feel up to attending. Be sure to keep your best interests in mind—don’t overcommit yourself out of obligation or pressure from friends or loved ones.
  • Plan for stressful times, too. If you have a particularly packed schedule on a given day, or you know you’ll be dealing with stressful situations, build in some time to decompress. For example, taking a 10-minute walk can give you a break from a busy or stressful day, allowing you to come back feeling calmer and more refreshed.
  • Manage grief in a healthy way. If you have lost a loved one, the holidays could trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation. Take time to recognize your loss, honor your loved one, and acknowledge that you miss them. Consider lighting a candle for them or donating a gift in their honor to a charitable organization they supported, or any other activity that allows you to give meaning to the loss in a constructive way.
  • Be realistic. Perfection is unattainable, and failing to reach it could make you unhappy. Try not to aim to have the perfect holiday, and simply allow yourself to enjoy the season for what it is.
  • Keep up your healthy habits. Maintaining healthy habits is important year-round, but even more so during the stressful holiday season. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods, and fit in some exercise (even if it’s just something simple like walking).
  • Don’t burn off stress with alcohol or drugs. While it may be tempting to use them to take the edge off difficult moments, don’t give in. These substances can actually make anxiety and depression worse.
  • Take a little “me time.” Don’t let the holidays completely take over your schedule! Build time into your schedule to treat yourself to activities you enjoy, such as reading a book, watching a movie, or getting a massage.
  • Stay within your budget. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to buy happiness—your own or anyone else’s—with lots of lavish gifts. Plan out who you’ll buy gifts for and how much you’ll spend for each, and stick to that budget when you’re shopping.
  • Do a good deed. Doing kind things for others can help you feel good, too. Take a little time to do something nice for others. You could volunteer at a soup kitchen or animal shelter, donate food to a food bank or clothing or other needed goods to a local shelter, or rake a neighbor’s leaves or shovel their driveway.

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