Dealing With Depression Over the Holidays

By Natalie Ledbetter CRNA, DAcOM


Many of us find ourselves dealing with depression over the holidays. While the holidays are a time for family, food, and celebration for many, the last month and a half of the year can be challenging for a large number of people for varied reasons.. The “pressure” to feel happy can make you feel worse when you don’t. Buying presents can be stressful if you are already low on funds and even if money is not an issue, the time it takes to shop for and wrap gifts can be an added stress in an already busy life. Many people feel lonelier during this time of year than any other as they listen to the plans of their work mates and friends, plans to travel or have large family gatherings. This togetherness in others can highlight their lack of family or travel plans.

For some, the holidays are a reminder that Mom, Dad, daughter, son, spouse, or other loved one is no longer with them, and they feel the pain of the loss more deeply.

There are actions you can take if you feel depressed during the holidays.

Spend some time outside

Staying active and getting outside is a great way to lift your mood. The natural sunlight stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain and helps you to feel more awake, alert, and positive. Exercise releases endorphins, natural painkillers in the body which also have been shown to improve mood.

Invite people to a meal

Invite coworkers or friends that do not have family or travel plans to join you for a celebration or a meal. You can have everyone bring a dish to share so you are not having to spend hours in the kitchen.

Serve others

The best way I have found to banish feelings of missing out, loneliness, or sadness is to volunteer at a food kitchen, shelter, children’s home, or some other outreach. It takes your mind off yourself and your circumstances. When we lived far from extended family, my husband and kids and I volunteered to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless at the Salvation Army. This brought us joy to spend time with and serve other people. There were a couple of years where we were trying to build a business unsuccessfully, so money was tight. Serving the homeless reminded us how blessed we were to have a place to live and food to eat. As we got to know some of the people we served, they taught us that there are many ways to live and to be happy and that money and security is not necessary for happiness. What makes all the difference are the thoughts we have about our circumstances, not the actual circumstances themselves.

Examine your rules and stop comparing yourself to others

We are tempted to become unhappy when our lives do not match the rules or blueprints we have in our head for how life “should” be.  When we examine these rules, often we discover that we inherited them from our family of origin or from Disney movies, or maybe we don’t even know where they came from. If we look closely, we may discover that these rules do not serve us.

Who says a Thanksgiving meal must look a certain way? Who decided that Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc must be celebrated with a large gathering, presents, or some other activity?  What do YOU like? What would feel good to you? If you find yourself with an extra day or two off from work with nowhere to go and nothing to do, this might be a great opportunity to catch up on your sleep. Maybe you will try that hiking trail you have been wanting to check out. You could try your hand at painting or read a good book. This time is “found time” and is a blessing if you decide that it is instead of comparing how you spend it to how others are spending their holiday.

Let yourself feel the negative emotions

What we resist persists. If we keep stuffing the emotions we don’t want to feel deep down inside us, they don’t go away. They lurk inside causing energetic imbalances in our body. Over time suppressed emotions can lead to disease.

What would happen if you lower yourself down into that feeling like lowering yourself into a bath? Can you sit with it for a bit? Most likely you will not die or fall apart, even if it feels like you will. Go deep and really feel it. Describe it like you are telling someone who has never had that emotion what it feels like in your body. Use physical terms.

For me, anxiety feels like a tightness in my chest and a fluttery sensation behind my breastbone. Usually during anxiety I can feel my heart beating and it feels faster and stronger than usual. When I go down into it and describe the physical sensations to myself, I realize that it is uncomfortable but not unbearable and the feeling actually dulls a bit as I examine it. Allowing it to “be” allows it to run its course so it does not get stuck and build up.

Often once we practice feeling our feelings, we realize the emotion is not quite as terrible as we feared, and we no longer need to turn to food, drink, drugs or other substances or activities to numb ourselves.

Spend time in gratitude

After you let yourself feel the negative emotions fully, take some time for gratitude. Look at YOUR life and YOUR body. What are you grateful for? Don’t compare what you have to others. Just focus on yourself and what you can be grateful for. Do you have legs that work? Arms, hands, and fingers? What a wonderful thing! Can you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel? Do you have clothes to wear or a home to live in?  Can you be thankful for each breath you take? It is easy to take this for granted but talk to someone with asthma and they can tell you just how wonderful it is to be able to breathe freely. If you look, you can find something you are grateful for. Focusing on this can help lift your mood by taking your thoughts in a more positive direction.


You are not alone if the holidays have you feeling depressed or stressed instead of giddy with Christmas spirit. All emotions are part of the human experience, and we will feel them all sometime if we live long enough. When we realize that we can feel them and let them pass or dull a bit instead of avoiding them, and that there are actions we can take may help us feel empowered instead of controlled by our circumstances and our thoughts about them.

Take a walk outside, spend a few minutes in gratitude, and maybe invite a friend, coworker, or neighbor for a meal or an activity if you don’t want to be alone. And in case you are not a lover of the holidays, I won’t tell you to have a merry Christmas because who needs the added pressure.

If you are interested in more ways to help fight depression at any time of the year, check out this article.

Botox may help ease symptoms of depression? How is that? Read more here.

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