Feelings of sadness that last throughout the holiday season—especially during November and December—are often referred to as the holiday blues or holiday depression.
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, there are many wishes for everyone to have a joyful and celebratory holiday season. But for many people, the holidays bring more distress than merriment, especially at a time when the ailing economy can’t seem to recover quickly enough, and money worries linger on people’s minds.
Constant reminders of others’ happy seasons can also serve as a painful reminder of the happiness and love missing in our own lives. Given that, the month of December can be a challenging time of year for those dealing with family conflict, loss, breakups, divorce, loneliness, and mental health problems.
People who already live with a mental illness should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time.
While pictures of love and joy fill storefronts, TV screens, and magazine pages, the reality of the holidays isn’t so cheery for many people. Between stressful end-of-year deadlines, family dysfunction and loss, transitions in eating and drinking habits, and more cold and dark winter days, it’s easy for the holiday season to feel not-so-merry and lively.
Holiday Depression, or is it Major Depression?
Psychologists point out a difference between the holiday depression, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more severe conditions such as major depression, seasonal affective disorder, and anxiety disorders.
For those who already have a psychological problem, the pressures of the holiday season can make things worse. Even “having fun” can be stressful on the mind and body, mainly if that fun involves lacking sleep or overindulging in alcohol or “party foods.” 
Depression occurs when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living such as working or even eating and sleeping. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless, hopeless about improving their situation. If holiday depression seem to stay or become more intense, people may want to seek help from a mental health professional. 
Holiday Depression vs. SAD
Feeling blue during the winter and holiday months may also signify seasonal affective disorder or SAD. SAD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD) that occurs in seasonal patterns during specific months of the year.
In most cases, SAD symptoms begin in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer; this is distinguished as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression. However, some people may struggle with depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression and is less prevalent.
Holiday depression and SAD can be challenging to differentiate from one another, but the duration and severity of your symptoms are usually your best signs:
- Duration: Holiday depression begins around November or December and symptoms dissipate shortly after the new year ends. SAD, however, typically lasts about 40% of the year—starting in the late fall and early winter and usually going away during the spring and summer. 
- Symptom Severity: The symptoms of holiday depression are relatively mild. SAD, on the other hand, is commonly more severe and can be debilitating.
If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, you should speak to a mental health professional to determine if you are undergoing a more significant mood disorder.
Symptoms of Holiday Depression
Some signs of holiday depression  might include:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Feeling tense, worried, or anxious
- Loss of pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy
Symptoms of Major Depression
Symptoms of major depression  may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
- Having problems with sleep
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Winter-Pattern SAD Symptoms
For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
Specific symptoms for summer-pattern SAD may include:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
- Restlessness and agitation
- Episodes of violent behavior
There are several reasons why people might encounter holiday depression. Some of the probable causes  include:
- Lack of Sleep: A hectic holiday schedule can lead to a lack of sleep, amplifying stress.
- Excess Eating & Alcohol Use: Unfortunately, people often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to handle holiday depression and stress. Excessive drinking and overeating can make the symptoms of holiday depression more distressing.
- Financial Stress: Overextending yourself financially or struggling to afford gifts for family and friends can produce an added burden of financial stress.
- Isolation & Loneliness: Not spending the holidays with your family and friends can make the holiday season lonely and make you homesick to a more significant level than the average days you are away.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Sometimes, even having high hopes for the season can lead to holiday anxiety and sadness. The over-commercialization of the holidays can indicate that people are supposed to feel constant joy and holiday delight. Set realistic expectations, first for yourself, and then communicate what those are to others.
- Grief: Missing a deceased loved one is painful at any age, but seniors have more reasons to grieve.
Tips to Cope with Holiday Depression
- Make plans in advance to know how your holidays will be spent with the people you want to be with. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making add more stress.
- Shop early and allow time to prepare and mail packages to avoid the shopping crunch.
- Ask for help from your family and children. Women tend to think they have to do all tasks when a team effort can be more pleasurable.
- Embarrassment hinders people from being open about gift-giving when they can’t afford it. Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and desire to but can’t afford it. That intimate time to share what you think and feel will dismiss your stress and nourish you both.
- Don’t let perfectionism burn you out. Remember, it’s togetherness and goodwill that matters.
- Make time to rest and rejuvenate even under the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.
- Research has shown that warmth elevates mood. If you’re sad or lonely, treat yourself to a warm bath or cup of hot tea.
- Spend time alone to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Pushing down feelings leads to depression. Let yourself feel. Then do something pleasant for yourself and socialize.
- Don’t isolate. Reach out to others who also may be lonely. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying.
The signs of depression are feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt, crying, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep, weight, or appetite. If these symptoms are getting critical or persist for a few weeks, more than the holidays may cause. Seek professional help. 
When to Ask for Help?
“It’s so important that we overcome the stigma of mental health treatment. Even though Holiday Depression is a seasonal condition, it is still important to get help when you feel it’s needed.” – said Ryan Zofay, Founder of We Level Up Development Series.
Lessening, eliminating, or finding creative ways to deal with holiday-specific demands on your time, energy, and emotions. Working with a therapist or locating other resources on coping with depression may help.
Give yourself credit for basic functioning, and try not to worry about meeting several expectations just because it is the holidays. There will be other ones, and they can be different than this one. Nonetheless, coming out of the holidays in the same (or better condition) as you went into them should be the goal.
Holiday depression is not a recognized psychiatric condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which clinicians use to diagnose mental health conditions. But this does not mean that you should not talk to a mental health professional about any concerning symptoms.
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If you’re still feeling pessimistic or depressed after the holidays are over, you may be dealing with more than just a case of temporary holiday depression. Call us about your symptoms, and we can help you determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.
[1-2] Holiday Blues That Linger Could Be Warning Sign of Depression – American Psychological Association
[3,7] What Are the Holiday Blues? – https://www.verywellmind.com/holiday-blues-4771716
[4-5] Seasonal Affective Disorder – National Institute of Mental Health
 Tips to Cope with Holiday Depression – https://psychcentral.com/lib/9-tips-to-cope-with-holiday-depression#1