What Causes The Holiday Blues and 5 Tips to Overcome Them

Medically reviewed by: Erika McElroy, Ph.D.
Wednesday, December 22 2021

With the holiday season fresh upon us, you might feel like you’re supposed to be full of joy at all times. But sometimes that can be really hard and nearly impossible. 

The holiday blues are a real thing, with many people experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression during this time. Here are a few reasons why the holiday blues occur, and some tips for managing these feelings during the holiday season.

What causes depression during the holidays? 

If you feel you may be experiencing the holiday blues, know that this is common. The holidays are a stressful and often chaotic time, and it’s okay to feel down, sad, or anxious. These feelings can be caused by many different things, including: 

Family issues

The holidays involve getting together with family and friends, and while this may be something some people look forward to, it’s also common to feel stressed about these gatherings. There may be strained relationships within the family and concerns about arguments erupting. Or, there may be worries about awkward situations occurring — like your cousin bringing up politics or your aunt asking about your personal life. 

It’s common to feel sadness about family gatherings, too. You may be missing a loved one who passed away. Or family members who live too far away to attend. These are all valid and common reasons for feeling down or anxious around the holidays. 

Financial stressors

The holidays are an expensive time. There are gifts to buy for your immediate family, extended family, friends, coworkers, and that random gift swap you felt obligated to participate in for your neighborhood book club. That’s a lot. Many people feel financial strains during the holidays because of these gift giving obligations — not to mention food, drinks, decor, and other holidays expenses. This strain can lead to stress and anxiety, and even exhaustion.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes feeling down extends beyond the decorations and celebrations. When feelings of sadness or loss of interest in activities occur every year during the fall or winter months, you may be experiencing a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

SAD is not the same as the holiday blues. It is severe, persistent depression that comes and goes with the season and can last several months. The holiday blues, however, are not a medical condition and only occur situationally during the holiday season. 

If you’re wondering whether your feelings of sadness or depression are the cause of SAD or just a case of the holiday blues, seeing a mental health professional can help. They can assess your symptoms, determine a cause, and offer support and treatment if needed. 

If the holiday blues are getting you down, consider these tips to help you bounce back. 

5 tips for managing the holiday blues 


1. Set boundaries 

It’s okay to say “no” to stressful situations — whether it be declining an invitation to a holiday party or saying no to hosting.  It’s important to mind your feelings and make decisions you’re comfortable with. This goes for events you choose to attend as well. It can be helpful to set a goal of how long you plan to stay and to be okay with sticking to that goal. This can help ease anxiety and stress. And if you need alone time at any point during the holidays, take it, even if it’s going for a 10-minute walk to clear your head. 

2. Limit alcohol

Alcohol is part of many holiday rituals. But drinking too much around the holidays can make feelings of depression and anxiety worse. A healthy limit for alcohol varies for every person, but a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says women should limit themselves to one drink or less in a day and seven drinks in a week, while men should limit themselves to two drinks in a day and 14 drinks in a week. 

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to drink. It’s okay to say no to the spiked punch and yes to the alcohol-free eggnog. 

3. Know it’s okay to grieve and remember loved ones

There is an expectation that the holidays are supposed to be a cheerful time, so you may feel like it’s not acceptable to grieve the loss of a loved one or feel sadness around their absence. It’s normal to have these feelings, and it is okay to take the time to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away and the memories you shared with them. Sharing your feelings rather than avoiding them can help alleviate sadness. 

4. Practice self-care and gratitude

Slowing down, taking time for yourself, and channeling gratitude might prove to be key to combating the holiday blues. A few ways to practice self-care include:

  • Going outside in nature
  • Lighting a candle and setting an intention
  • Listening to a playlist of your favorite songs
  • Doing something calming like yoga or meditation 

A few ways to channel gratitude include: 

  • Writing down something that you're grateful for
  • Telling a friend or family member why you're grateful for them
  • Thanking someone (maybe with a handwritten note)
  • Showing kindness to a stranger

Remember that it’s okay to view the holiday season as a time to pause and catch your own breath. Before you take care of anyone else, you have to take care of yourself.

5. Set a budget 

Setting a budget and limiting your spending can help ease financial stress during the holidays. Make a list of what you plan to buy and the money you have to spend. Bring the list with you when you go shopping or keep it nearby when you shop online to help avoid any impulse buying.  

Sticking to a budget may mean buying less gifts than years prior. This is okay. At the end of the day, what matters are the memories made with the people who matter most to you. Keeping this top of mind can help you stick to your budget, too. 

Talk to a therapist if it gets to be too much

If you need support managing feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, or grief during the holidays, talking to a therapist can help. They can help you build skills to manage these feelings so you can make the most of the holidays. If you feel therapy could be right for you, SonderMind can connect you with a therapist who meets your needs.

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