Holiday Depression: How to Spot the Warning Signs

Updated: Jan 19

From parties and get-togethers with friends to beautiful lights and delicious hot cocoa, the holiday season is one of the most joyous times of the year for many people. It’s considered a time for love and comfort. However, for others, it is a time filled with sadness, loneliness and anxiety, particularly for those who have experienced a loss, who are alone during the holidays, or are grieving a loved one. This is what is referred to as “holiday depression.”


Balancing responsibilities and commitments that often drive one in many different directions, like shopping, hosting gatherings, and competing family obligations, can increase stress levels and lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. It’s important to be able to identify the warning signs that suggest the increased stress may be paving the way to depression, whether it is for yourself or a loved one, and to be able to manage it. Keep reading to learn more about what to look out for with the holiday blues and some useful tips to keep your mood in check.


Warning Sign #1: Canceling planned celebrations

Avoiding social situations or gatherings is a telltale sign that you or a loved one is starting to dip into a depressive state. Many people will often find themselves skipping once-loved events and isolate themselves from the outside world. Holiday depression is no different.


With holiday depression, isolation patterns include canceling celebrations they typically host, withdrawing from annual festivities or making excuses to avoid socializing at work parties. Giving into this particular symptom can drive one into a deeper depression and make for a blue holiday season.


How to help

Look for ways to create and enjoy connections with loved ones. If you aren’t able to see family for the holidays, reach out to close friends and let them know how you’re feeling. If you are noticing these patterns in someone close to you, let them know you’re available to talk or have a little get-together, like decorating the tree or connecting for a holiday movie marathon.


Warning Sign #2: Changes in behavior or mood

This time of year is typically considered to be a season of joy and cheer. So when you or someone you know starts to display sudden mood or behavior changes like anger, sadness, lack of sleep, impulsiveness, excessive drinking, hopelessness, or hypersensitivity, it may be due to depression.


How to help

When experiencing mood swings caused by depression, we are not just hurting ourselves, we are also affecting those closest to us. If someone close to you is exhibiting new, undesirable behaviors, let them know that you are concerned about these sudden changes. If you catch yourself having outbursts that are uncharacteristic of you, talk to someone who you trust about the different emotions you’re feeling.


Warning Sign #3: Changes in weight or physical appearance

Changes in one’s physical appearance is another symptom that shouldn’t go unnoticed. People with depression can experience fluctuations in their weight and appetite. Some gain weight due to overeating as a way to seek comfort, whereas others lose weight because they have no desire to eat anything at all.


Individuals with depression also have trouble maintaining proper hygiene. Usual self care steps, like washing one’s hair or getting dressed for the day, suddenly become Herculean tasks. The holidays typically include fancy parties or other events where you would want to look your best. If you are noticing that you or someone you know are no longer taking care of appearances, chances are holiday depression is the culprit.


How to help

Addressing or acknowledging these sudden—and unintentional—physical changes should be done with sensitivity and care.


If you’re noticing it within yourself, the first step to managing it is recognizing it. Establish small goals for yourself that you are able to manage, like brushing your teeth in the morning, even if you don’t really feel like it. Recognize the small steps as daily victories. Avoid comparing your current state to previous states where you were functioning at a higher level of energy and mood. It’s okay to take things day by day, and set small but manageable goals for self-care.


If you notice someone close to you exhibiting these types of changes, begin by asking if they are doing okay. Avoid saying things like, “You look tired.” This comes across as critical or suggests they should just “cheer up.” Rather, a statement that reflects care and concern, with an offer of your time and attention, can reflect a genuine gesture of support. By softly backing into the subject, you might be able to open up a space for dialogue about what is going on with the person.


Warning Sign #4: Excessive drinking

Celebrating the holidays with a glass of champagne or wine is a pretty common pastime. However, many people may begin increasing the amount of alcohol they consume to manage their holiday blues. Drinking heavily and regularly is associated with symptoms of depression. While it can be difficult to determine the cause, the stress and anxiety of the holiday season is certainly a factor.


How to help

The holidays can be stressful and anxiety-inducing—especially for those struggling with alcohol or substance abuse. By engaging in healthy lifestyle habits and being mindful of certain triggers, you can actively avoid going down a dangerous path during the holiday season. Engage in productive activities and daily routines that will support your recovery from drug or alcohol dependency.


Seek Professional Help and Guidance

It’s no secret that millions of people suffer from depression, including holiday depression. If you or someone you know is displaying any of the aforementioned symptoms, you might be experiencing holiday depression. While the holiday blues may remit once the season ends, it is important to recognize when to seek help from a professional.


The Chicagoland therapists and counselors at Konick and Associates are available to help you manage your depression during the winter season and well into the new year if you need it. Schedule an appointment today and start finding your holiday spirit once again!

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