Depression impacts nearly 6.7 million adults in the United States, and the stress of the holidays can make that depression worse.
Many factors play into the reality of depression magnifying around the holiday season, including increased loneliness, strain on finances and guilt caused by unhealthy choices.
Uma Suryadevara, M.D., a UF Health psychiatrist, said that seasonal affective depression is often regular depression but exacerbated around the holidays and said she sees an increase in patients coming to her for help with depression during the holiday season.
“If a person is a little bit prone to depression and then they have to do a whole lot during the holidays, this could lead to more stress, which could lead to more isolation, and they eventually could end up getting more depressed,” Suryadevara said.
UF Health can help those who know they struggle with holiday depression by addressing some of the common problems that cause stress during the holidays and by offering ways to stop these triggers before they occur.
THE DILEMMA: The holidays are traditionally accompanied by spending on gifts, food and travel, which can impact finances and put stress on anyone who can’t afford what they feel their family deserves.
THE SOLUTION: Encourage yourself to be realistic and recognize that holidays can’t be the same every year. Understand that despite what you spend on gifts, decorations or get-togethers, the holidays are a time of togetherness and love, and those around you will be appreciative of your thoughtfulness no matter what you spend on them. To prevent stress from financial hardship due to overspending, plan ahead for events and travel plans. Create a budget and stick to it.
THE DILEMMA: The holidays are typically spent surrounded by family and friends. Sometimes loved ones have recently passed away, families have broken up due to divorce or people are forced to spend a holiday far away from the people they care about. Special occasions like holidays can make this loss or loneliness even more apparent and deepen depressive episodes.
THE SOLUTION: Acknowledge the feelings you’re having, whether they be those of grief or loneliness, and reach out to those around you to express how you are feeling. Everyone has experienced these feelings in some form and has the capacity to be understanding. You’d be surprised at the lengths people would go to help you feel wanted and loved, especially during the holiday season while the spirit of giving is in the air.
THE DILEMMA: The holidays are a time of sharing love through baked goods and casseroles. Often, this food is very rich and is served in portion sizes that lead to overeating. Overeating can cause decreased self-confidence, stress and guilt, which can make a depressed person feel worse about themselves.
THE SOLUTION: Don’t abandon your healthy habits during the holidays. Though everyone looks forward to the delicious foods served on Thanksgiving and Christmas, don’t eat more than you typically would. Spreading the food out over several days of well-portioned meals can lead to less guilt and more times you get to eat the annual foods you love. Are you worried about disappointing or embarrassing family members by not eating their dish? It is often empowering to say no or stick to what you need for your own health and well-being. Be open about what you’re going through, and your family will understand your choices.
THE DILEMMA: The holidays are coming quickly, and you haven’t had time to purchase gifts for anyone, let alone think about what they’d want. This added anxiety can add another layer to depression, making every day a greater struggle.
THE SOLUTION: First, plan ahead to avoid last-minute shopping. Shop months in advance and take advantage of sale events like Black Friday to get all of your shopping done ahead of time. Then, don’t allow perfectionism to get you down. If you feel you can’t find the perfect gift this year, that’s okay! You can always make up for it at their birthday or next holiday season. Odds are they will be grateful you purchased them anything.
At the end of the day, take time to de-stress. Warmth and doing things you enjoy both improve mood, so take a hot bath, wrap yourself in a blanket and relax while doing your favorite thing. As always, seek professional help if you feel you need it.
UF Health psychiatrists are faculty members at the University of Florida, expertly trained and certified by the American Board in Psychiatry to provide patients with consultations, evaluations and treatments, as well as a wide variety of services.