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The Holiday Blues: Stress, Anxiety, and Depression During the Holiday Season

With the holidays right around the corner (or for some, already here), many are anticipating the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Others may find themselves struggling with loneliness or even dread when they think about the upcoming holidays.

The holidays are an exciting time, but it can be difficult when you have lost someone you love, can’t return home, face financial stresses, or feel isolated.

These feelings are commonly referred to as “the holiday blues” and are more common than you may think.

If you or someone you know is struggling with these feelings, remember you are not alone. Others also feel this way, and it is okay.

What Are The Holiday Blues?

The holiday blues are often classified as sadness, loneliness, and anxiety that happen specifically around the holiday season.

Because the holidays are often very emotional, for good and bad, it is common for people to experience an increase in stress, sadness, and anxiousness.

About 64% of people who struggle with mental illnesses have reported that the holiday seasons make the symptoms of their mental illness worse.

Signs/Symptoms of Holiday Blues

The holiday blues can present themselves in a lot of different ways. This diagnosis is not a mental disorder stated within the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5), the official diagnostic tool psychologists use. But, anything that leads to feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression is severe and should be taken seriously.

Many of these symptoms are normal feelings everyone feels at some time. If they are severe and causing you distress, you may want to seek help. A few of the symptoms of holiday blues include:

Changes in Appetite

Often, we think of changes in appetite referring to a lack of eating and never feeling hungry. But, a change in appetite can also refer to binge eating. Consuming more than normal during the holidays doesn’t classify as a change in appetite. It is hard not to eat more because of all the delicious treats (peppermint everything, cookies, gingerbread, eggnog, huge family dinners, chocolates). But, experiencing a change of appetite due to stress can be a symptom of experiencing the holiday blues.

Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Disrupted sleep patterns often refer to the inability to sleep soundly or a constant need for increased sleep. Sleeping is hard around the holidays because there is so much going on, so rest is often in short supply. But, if this is causing you distress, or you feel like your disrupted sleep is causing more stress, you may want to seek out help.


A common symptom of the holiday blues is feeling incredibly down. You may feel worthless, lonely, and have a hard time finding joy in fun activities. It is usual for everyone to feel these sad feelings every once in a while, but if these feelings last more than two weeks, you could be diagnosed with depression. If these feelings are consistent and distressing, you may want to reach out and talk to someone.


The holidays are hard for a lot of reasons, a big one being financial. It is stressful trying to keep up with everyone around you when it comes to decorations, food, gifts, and other expenses around the holidays. Increased feelings of anxiety or constant stress are common symptoms of the holiday blues.

Causes of the Holiday Blues

A lot of things can come together to be the root cause of the holiday blues. But, there may not be one single thing that causes you to feel increased stress, anxiety, or depression.

Some common causes of the holiday blues include:

  • Over-committing yourself
  • Financial stress
  • Unrealistic expectations of the holiday season
  • Fatigue
  • Increased stress
  • Lack of routine (and breaking good habits)
  • Being away from friends or family
  • Missing loved ones
  • SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
  • Addiction
  • Feeling isolated and alone

How to Cope with Mental Health Conditions Around the Holidays

When Thanksgiving passes, and you feel the holiday blues creeping in, it is hard to know what to do. How can you help yourself find the joy in the holiday season like you could when you were a kid?

Here are five easy de-stress techniques to help alleviate stress and help you feel the holiday magic:

1. Minimize Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol is a depressant, so you may want to steer clear of the alcohol when you feel down, stressed, anxious, or any other of those holiday blues feelings.

That doesn’t mean you can’t drink at all. Maybe choose something else occasionally and limit the amount you drink over the holiday season.

2. Be Around Other People

Being around people can be exhausting, but finding a balance between spending time with others and being alone can help bring joy to the holiday season.

For many, feelings of loneliness, depression, and sadness around the holidays come because you miss those you love. Maybe it isn’t possible to go home, maybe you lost someone you love, or perhaps it just isn’t an option to spend time together. Finding others that you can decorate cookies with, decorate your tree, and do those other holiday traditions with can bring a feeling of camaraderie that can diminish feelings of the holiday blues.

3. Exercise

The last thing anyone wants to do through December is exercise. Your routine is different, the food is endless, and you have about a million things to do every single day. But, taking even just 20 minutes in the morning to work out will make a huge difference.

There is scientific proof that exercising releases endorphins that can improve your mood and mental state. Doing small things like going for a walk, yoga, going to the gym, and others can help you feel happier. And let’s be honest, the holidays should be a happy time of year.

4. Take Time for YOU

The holidays are full of commotion. Everyone moves a mile a minute, and schedules get crazy with school, work, extracurricular activities, concerts, family, commitments, etc.

Take time for you to be able to do what you love. It is so fun to do everything during the holiday season, but taking time to take care of your mental health will protect you from burning out before Christmas Day. Self-care is important and can make a real difference in your life.

5. Set Realistic Expectations

While it would be fun to do every single thing you are invited to do or that you want to do, it isn’t always possible.

You aren’t going to have time, energy, or the ability to do everything. Set realistic expectations and decide in advance what is most important. Just because the holidays are magical doesn’t mean every single moment will be.

Try to go into this holiday season with realistic expectations. Setting crazy expectations puts pressure on you that isn’t needed and can lead to the holiday blues.

Utilize Techniques to Decrease Stress

There are fantastic techniques to help you decrease stress, especially during the holidays.

Breathing: Taking 5 minutes to take deep breaths makes a huge difference. Give yourself time (lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to) and take 20 deep breaths through your nose. Breathing will help you center and ground yourself.

Get Outside: Winter is difficult for many people because the days are short, it is cold, and there is not a lot of daylight. But winter can also be beautiful. Take time to get outside, breathe the fresh air, and escape reality for a moment.

Write Down Something You Are Grateful For: This is cliché, but it does help. Take time in the morning or evening and write down a couple of things you are grateful for. This practice will help you focus on the good things rather than dwelling on the stress.

Resources for Treatment

There is no one specific treatment for the holiday blues because everyone is different. Everyone feels these feelings differently.

Find a way that helps you feel happy, and then make time every day to do that thing.

You can also turn to a trusted friend or family member and confide in them.

The most important thing to do is remember you are not alone. These are normal feelings, and thousands of other people go through something similar to this every year.

If you feel like you could benefit from professional help, mental health services like Jackson House can help you learn ways to treat your feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression around the holidays.

We would love to help you bring the magic into your holiday season. Never hesitate to contact us if you have questions or need to talk to a trusted individual.

It's time to feel better

We are here to help and we are in-network with most insurance providers. Call us for a free and confidential consultation.

If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.