Depression And The Holiday Blues

By Dr. Kurt Smith

January 10, 2024   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Depression And The Holiday Blues

The holidays can bring up a whole barrage of feelings in people. For some, it’s warm, happy feelings filled with goodwill. Unfortunately, however, for many others, the season is filled with anxiety and intense sadness.

During this time of year depression for some can take center stage. Feelings of loneliness and failure can become overwhelming and makes it difficult to do anything, let alone feel as joyous as the world is telling you to be.

But is this feeling truly depression, or could it be a case of the holiday blues? There is a difference, and it’s important to know the distinction in order to handle your feelings in the most appropriate manner.

The Difference Between Depression And The Holiday Blues

People who aren’t full of happiness and good cheer during the holidays often get labeled as depressed. They may, in fact, determine on their own that they’re depressed. But depression has some specific characteristics that make it different than the sadness felt by many during the holidays.

True depression is different than just feeling sad. It encompasses feelings of sadness, but it’s not the kind of sadness that’s brought on by situations like loss, a break-up, or missing someone. It can range from mild to severe and be periodic or very long-lasting. Among the defining hallmarks of true depression are:

  • Hopelessness
  • Loneliness, even with others around.
  • Despair
  • Lack of interest in most things.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, very often sleeping too much or at inappropriate times.
  • Feelings of worthlessness

There are other symptoms as well and not all of these may be present at the same time. But what depression is not is situational. The sadness you feel when a loved one passes away or when your heart is broken is different. That’s a normal reaction to a saddening situation.
Holiday blues, on the other hand, are different than both true depression and situational sadness but have characteristics of both, which is one of the reasons it can be hard to tell the difference.

People who experience holiday blues often report feeling:

  • Lonely
  • Angry
  • Feelings of failure
  • Desire to withdraw from social situations
  • Anxious for the season to pass
  • Resentful of others who seem happy

These feelings are a reaction to the season and do have components often seen in true depression. But unlike true depression, these feelings often dissipate as the season changes and people are no longer infected with the “holiday spirit.”

How You Can Tell If It’s Depression Or The Blues

Determining whether you’re dealing with the holiday blues or depression can be tough. As you can see there is overlap. And if you’re the person experiencing these things, trying to tell the difference can be hard and you may not have the energy to try to make the determination, nor the objectivity.

Understanding the difference, however, can be important when it comes to getting help or helping yourself.

  • So, if you are feeling depressed as the holidays approach, ask yourself the following.
  • Were you feeling this way prior to the holidays?
  • Can you remember feeling this way before and was it also around the holiday season?
  • Is there anything about the holiday season you appreciate, or do you want it all to go away?
  • Do you feel happier at the idea of the holidays being over?
  • Does your mood lighten if you are in a place that doesn’t remind you of the season you’re in?

The answers to these questions can help you get a better idea if you are truly depressed or experiencing the holiday blues.

What You Can Do To Improve

Once you have a clearer idea as to what you’re facing you can now make a plan for addressing it.

In the case of depression, seeking help may include finding a licensed counselor to help you confirm whether you are actually depressed (a self-diagnosis can’t always be relied upon), understanding your depression, and what your treatment options are. It should be noted that depression can be quite serious and shouldn’t go untreated. If you feel you are truly depressed and not dealing with the holiday blues it’s important that you reach out for assistance.

If, however, you feel that your state of mind has more to do with the season itself, there are some things you can do to help yourself get through this time.

Consider the following tips to help you navigate your way into a better place.

① Take time to be good to yourself

Take time to be good to yourself
Photo: askgoldy

In a season that touts being “selfless,” it’s okay to be a little selfish. The feelings of sadness and despair can be lightened by giving yourself permission to be good to you. No, don’t spend money like a fool, but maybe get a massage, read a book, enjoy the outdoors, and don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty about not being in a holiday mood. Choose something that best suits you.


② Look for ways to volunteer and help others

Look for ways to volunteer and help others
Photo: entrepreneur

There are certain to be others out there that are struggling too. Finding a way to help others in tough situations can be extremely gratifying and give you purpose. It can also make you appreciate aspects of your own life that you may have taken for granted. Some places to start would be finding a local food bank, calling the Salvation Army, or helping at a homeless shelter.


③ Reach out to people you enjoy or love

Reach out to people you enjoy or love
Photo: westend61

If you don’t feel like socializing, consider writing a letter or dropping a text just to stay connected. People appreciate knowing they’re being thought of and very often effort begets effort. Don’t allow yourself to play tit-for-tat. Let go of any “They haven’t contacted me, why should I contact them,” feelings and just reach out. An elderly relative is one possibility.


④ Remind yourself of the origin of the holidays

Remind yourself of the origin of the holidays
Photo: myfrugalchristmas

The holiday season didn’t originate in an obnoxious and commercial manner. There is a real and meaningful origin. Sometimes reminding yourself of that helps to put things back into perspective.


⑤ Find a productive distraction

Find a productive distraction
Photo: studio5.ksl

If you really need to disengage with all the holidayness this could be a good time to teach yourself to draw, paint, or whittle. No? Okay, choose something else. There’s an endless supply of instructional videos and posts to be found on the internet.

Remember, if it’s the holidays that have you down you’re not alone and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. And if things feel like they’re getting more serious than the blues then reach out and ask for help.

Dr. Kurt Smith

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.

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