Depression often strikes around the holidays as many individuals experience a wide range of feelings and emotions that can be triggered by the season. Of course, depression can occur at any time of year, but the holidays are especially suited to helping create feelings of inadequacy and emptiness in people who see others celebrating and experiencing happiness that they feel is eluding them. These individuals may witness other people spending time with family and friends and ask themselves, “Why can’t that be me?” or “Why is everyone else so much happier than I am?” Likewise, individuals who are experiencing the recent loss of a loved one can be susceptible to depression during the holidays as they face a holiday without a spouse, parent, or close friend.
The months of November and December can see the start of stress and anxiety in people who feel responsible for hosting big family celebrations and other events that require investing time, money, and effort – all of which may be in short supply for individuals with work, family, and social responsibilities.
Social isolation is one of the biggest predictors of depression, especially during the holidays.
Some individuals may have a small social circle or lack opportunities for socializing outside of work. People who have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions at holiday time. Unfortunately, withdrawing and a lack of interaction with others often makes feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse.
One of the challenges with holiday depression and seasonal affective disorder is that there are so many different possible causes. Among the many potential triggers for this condition are:
- Stress: The holidays, while a time for celebration, can be a huge source of stress for many people. One factor can be shopping for gifts — many people may experience anxiety about how much money they are spending. Stress can also stem from organizing get-togethers, and the dozens of other things that can pack holiday schedules.
- Fatigue: Packed holiday schedules can leave people exhausted. Fatigue is a common contributing factor to holiday depression since it leads to a lack of exercise, not wanting to leave the house, and may even lead to a weakened immune system.
- Family-Related Issues: Some people rarely see their families outside of the holidays, which may make this particular season more difficult to deal with than others. Spending time with parents, siblings, and other relatives can cause tension, and the anxiety of these get-togethers can trigger depression.
- Loneliness: While some are experiencing family issues, other people have trouble during the holidays for the opposite reason. Not being able to spend time with loved ones due to financial constraints, distance, or other reasons can cause severe loneliness during the holidays. Also, those who have family members or friends who have passed away may miss them even more during special times like the holidays.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Some people have high expectations for the holidays, but when reality sets in, they find themselves disappointed with the actual outcome. Whether it’s holiday parties not being as much fun as anticipated, loved ones not getting as excited about their gifts as hoped, or some other bad experience, the sadness of a holiday season that doesn’t match up with an individual’s expectations can trigger a bout of depression.
- Reduced Sunlight: The lack of sunlight during the winter months can be one of the triggers for seasonal affective disorder. In addition to affecting chemical balances within the body, longer periods of darkness can also make a person less likely to want to go outside, exercise or spend time with others.
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from holiday depression or seasonal affective disorder, help is available here at Community Health Connections. There are a number of ways to deal with and treat these conditions – our mental health specialists can help you combat depression and get through the winter and the holidays.