How can I avoid being depressed during the holidays?

Sheri D. Pruitt
The holidays are a time of joy for most people. However, holiday time can also mean a bout of the "blues." Here are some tips that should help:
  • Set realistic expectations for the holidays. As special as they are, they will not erase all of your past problems.
  • Remember that it's okay not to feel festive all of the time. If you are feeling down, just let others know.
  • Take some time for yourself. Plan activities that you enjoy, and spend time with family or close friends.
  • Be sure to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals, stay active, and limit your intake of alcohol.
What if someone you love has the blues?
  • Try to involve that person in holiday activities, but don't be forceful.
  • Be a good listener. Remember that the holidays can be a tough time for some people, and letting them talk about it may be all they need.
The good news is that, for most people, holiday blues are temporary. However for some people, the holidays can bring on the more serious condition of clinical depression. If you or someone you know doesn't shake the blues after a few weeks, it's time to talk with your doctor or a mental health professional.
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One great way to boost your happiness this holiday season is to listen to music. Upbeat tunes can motivate you to plow through mundane tasks, and slower, more relaxing music can help reduce stress. Make sure to use some music to get yourself moving this season.

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All of us can be subject to the Holiday Blues from time to time related to a number of influences, some internal and some external.

Accept that Christmas is an extremely stressful time of year for many of us already running on empty. Dinners, parties, family trips, visitors all add additional responsibilities and expense. Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn to say "No" to invitations and requests on your time, money and energy if you don't have it to give.
  • Consider what YOU want your holiday experience to mean and to be. Start new traditions or create plans with a "Family of Choice" if you don't find support in your own.
  • Make a budget and stay within it. Be reasonable with your money and time. Be flexible with both, make adjustments where you need to.
  • Lower your expectations - Plan for changes and last-minute interruptions. Learn to roll with it! Love what IS!
  • Don't let one activity dominate. Make lots of moments a little special instead of one moment monumental.
  • Get organized and stay organized. Make lists and prioritize the most important things you want or have to do.
  • Accept some sadness. The Holidays bring back memories, both good and bad, and remind us of the passage of time. Take some time to grieve loss.
  • Avoid making comparisons. This is the only moment in which we exist. Live this moment and make it the best you can with what you have.
  • Do something for someone else. Volunteer. Make an anonymous donation. You don't have to change the world. A person, who receives a smile, walks away with something they didn't have before.
  • Do things that don't cost money. Find out who has the best yard decorations and make a travel trip around the neighborhoods.
  • Be silly. Act like a kid. Let yourself be free of responsibility if just for a moment. They'll be there when you're ready.
  • Avoid "over"-ing: eating, drinking, committing, medicating, sleeping, etc.

Lastly, the Holidays simply come during a time of year for North Americans when we get the least sunlight. Certain light frequencies become scarce in the winter months that have been found to directly impact mood for many people. This condition is frequently referred to as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. To correct this, "let the sun shine in" as much as possible. If you don't have much sun where you are, consider some light therapy with full-spectrum lights. You don't need to spend a lot to get the benefits.

Most of all take care of yourself.


The holidays, while intended to be a time of celebration, can also be a time of sadness or loneliness for some people. You may feel that the holidays don’t meet your expectations, or you may miss people who you cannot be with over the holidays. It is normal to feel down occasionally and for a short period of time. If you feel your depression is more than just a normal, short-term period of sadness, however, you should not feel embarrassed to seek medical attention. Depression is a medical condition that requires treatment. If you are having thoughts of suicide, go immediately to the emergency room.

It is important that you seek help for depression, not only for your mental health, but also for your physical health. Even for people who do not have heart disease, depression can increase the risk of a heart attack and the development of coronary artery disease. And if you are depressed, you are more likely to die from sudden heart problems. 

Psychotherapy and medication can help you mange depression. If your depression is short-term and related to the holidays, a psychotherapist or other qualified medical professional can help you identify strategies for reducing your symptoms.

Additionally, some of the following strategies may help you manage feelings of sadness over the holidays:

  • Seek social support. While you may wish to withdraw from social contact when you are experiencing holiday depression, doing so can increase your sense of isolation. You may find that time with others can improve your mood.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking alcohol can worsen your depression, so you may want to consider avoiding or limiting how much you drink at holiday partiers until you feel better.
  • Exercise. Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Exercise releases endorphins - “feel-good” chemicals that may help reduce depression. Skipping exercise over the holidays because you feel you are too busy may make it harder for you to manage your depression.

Marchell Coleman
Mental Health

Holiday depression can be prevented by first recognizing your personal risk factors; if you believe you are at risk for depression during the holidays it is important to acknowledge why you have these feelings. Moreover, some people are at risk because they have memories of loved one who died and will not be with them during the holidays. Understand that memories can intensify feelings of sadness and grief. It is important to acknowledge your emotions and know that it is ok to take time to cry and reminisce on the past. However, despite your best intentions to enjoy the holiday season, if you find yourself persistently sad, anxious or overcome with emotional pain reach out for professional help.
John Berkowitz
Social Work
Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression. The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would. When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations.
  5. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
Robert Rozsay
Addiction Medicine
Preventing depression during the holidays can be a little difficult because we often have a history of loss, disapointment or hurtful situation that we are reminded of at that time of the year. Some of the ways we can put our depression aside is to focus on the good things that are happening in our lives now, don't expect your family to be any different than they have always been. Avoid, if you can, people and situations that remind you of your painful history. There a lot of demands placed on you during holiday seasons so pace yourself. Overwhelming yourself is a slippery slope and can slide you right down to depression. Don't do anything you truly can't do and keep your expectations realistic.
Richard Walsh
Social Work
You are not alone. Many people have low or depressed feelings during the holidays. While there is no magic bullet, you can influence how you feel and find happiness. In my experience, holidays are associated with your own personal expectations. Where you developed your expectations can come from a myriad of influences. Expectations set us up for disappointment. If you can become aware of your internal expectations and manage them you have a greater opportunity to experience happiness or simply feel "less worse". If you are able to go into the holiday season with no expectations then whatever comes your way becomes a gift and a blessing. While you may not be able to master this level of consciousness, you can adjust your internal expectations by simply minimizing them. You just may find greater upliftment and a sense of happiness!
Stephanie Adams
Social Work

The best prevention is being proactive. If you know there is a vulnerability in a certain area - whether it's a lack of family connections, financial constraints, or something else entirely - begin to think now about what you can do to avoid further stress in that area.

Part of that is avoiding tough situations. There's no law that says that you have to participate in a holiday activity that's rough for you.  If you dread a particular situation for whatever reason, why put yourself through it? Start a new tradition. Be inventive!

Another part of that is making it harder to get depressed by focusing outward instead of inwards. A natural antidepressant is helping others. Please don't think that by saying that I in any way minimize how lonely or frustrating the holidays might be for you. Many people feel very real feelings of depression during this time of year, for very good reasons. But it's hard to hold on to any kind of depression, including depression related to the holidays, when you're reaching outside of yourself.

Probably the most significant thing that volunteering and serving others does for depression during the holidays (or any time) is to make us feel better about ourselves. When you're feeling depressed, positive self-esteem is really hard to come by. Even if we can come up with a reason to encourage ourselves, we don't usually want to believe it! But when you can see for yourself the difference you're making in another's life and feel that genuine, warm glow of knowing that your actions mattered to another person - that's hard to beat.

So if you are feeling depressed right now, I STRONGLY urge you to call up your local Salvation Army or United Way center, or visit, and get matched up with a service organization that needs your help at this time of year. Try it for a week, and see what a difference it will make. I've NEVER known anyone to say that working to help others did not make a positive difference in their outlook on life.

Jim Sleeper
Addiction Medicine
The key to this is to pay attention to what you are telling yourself about the holidays or yourself. Our thinking creates our feelings especially negative feelings which can lead to depression. Another key is to focus on the here and now, experiencing the moment. Focusing on the past, which we can do nothing about , can lead to depression or thought patterns that create sadness.
Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
Speaking as an addiction specialist, if you are in new recovery, it is difficult to stay healthy at a time of year that focuses on parties and celebrating.

However, avoiding triggers is a good way to avoid a lapse. Depending upon how solid your sobriety is, you may have to limit your attendance at parties this year or avoid them completely. If the family usually cocktails before dinner, plan your arrival around the time dinner will be served. If you feel it will be too much of a temptation to return to alcohol at seasonal functions, attend the numerous alcohol-free Christmas and New Year's parties usually hosted by 12 Step Program members.

One of the ways to avoid depression is to plan your activities carefully. Don't leave large blocks of time with nothing to do. Go to the gym, ride a bike, play racketball, cook, sew, or visit with your sponsor and other members of your group. Pick up the guitar left abandoned against a wall; finish writing the songs your started; do some homework or finish a term-paper.

Most importantly, look to help others who may be struggling. Volunteer your time to something worthwhile. Plan outings with your family. Visit your elderly aunt.

It is just a season of your life. It is not your whole life. Enjoy what you can and leave the rest.
Irwin Isaacs

Many people become depressed during the Holiday season because they are bombarded by the media with the message that this is "the happiest time of the year". We see this message on television during commercials, and even during special holiday shows. So many people take this all in and then reflect upon the reality that their own lives don't match up to what they are seeing and hearing; and then begin feeling sad and depressed because they don't have the perfection they see portrayed all around them.

To prevent depression during this season of the year it is very important to remind yourself that what you are seeing on TV is not real. It is actors doing a good job of making you believe that they have all this happiness and perfection in their lives. Reality is that no one has such perfection. Even people you know who seem to have such perfect lives are just allowing you to see the facade they choose to display in public. It is extremely rare for someone to be sharing his or her personal problems with others; even friends.

So make a special effort to live in gratitude for all the blessings you have in your life. If you think about that you will find that you so much to appreciate, and that your happiness is not related to anyone else's life experience.

Arlene Feuerberg-Isaacs
It is very common to become depressed during the holidays. We tend to reflect on what we don't have, rather than what we do have. A good way to overcome these feelings of depression is to focus on the positives in your life. You can accomplish this by making a list of all that is positive in your life and posting it in a conspicuous place in your home. When you are feeling down read your list, several times if necessary.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

If you have a tendency to get depressed during the holidays as many people do, there are several things to keep in mind. The first and most important is to know that depression is often times self-directed anger. So be aware of those situations which may get you feeling that way.

Knowing them allows you to steer clear if possible, and if not then to equip yourself as best as possible. Be sure to keep a close eye on how YOU feel and think as you proceed through the holidays and always take care of yourself. If you find yourself in this type of a situation then do what you need to do to be respectful and not to push the limit until you implode.


Judith Beck, PhD
Keep your expectations realistic. You will enjoy certain events more than others. Watch out for shoulds that lead to disappointment: "I should be happy." "My relatives should act like the perfect American family." "I should feel unstressed." "This should be the best time of the year."

Keep a balanced schedule. Make time for fun, rest and relaxation, exercise -- and especially, for socializing with other people.

Accept feelings of sadness. They're probably temporary. It's normal for many people to feel somewhat sad at times during the holidays. Don't make the feelings worse by telling yourself that it's terrible to feel sad.

If you do get upset, change what you're doing. The worst thing you can do is to passively sit alone and think depressing thoughts. Get up! If you're prone to depression, have a list of things you can do: create a list of friends to call, text or email, have a list of websites you like to surf, have a book of puzzles or catalogs to leaf through, take a walk. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.