While everything from movies and TV shows to social media and holiday cards insist the holidays are the “most wonderful time of the year,” the reality is, many people experience grief and depression during this season. Here are six practical ways to combat holiday depression and grief if you are struggling this holiday season.
The Holidays Can Be Triggering
If you’re struggling with depression or grief during this holiday season, know that you’re not alone. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that approximately 24 percent of people with a mental illness report the holiday season makes their condition “a lot” worse, while 40 percent say the holidays make it “somewhat” worse .
The same survey found that 66 percent of participants reported feeling lonely during the holidays and 55 percent say they compare the present holiday with happier times in the past .
While it’s true that the holidays can be a more difficult time for many people, especially those who have lost a loved one, have recently experienced a significant life change (divorce, moving out of state, job loss, etc.), or those who already struggle with a diagnosed mental illness, there are things you can do to combat holiday depression and grief.
Before looking at the six ways you can support your mental health this holiday season, it’s important to note that, contrary to common misperceptions, suicide rates do not increase during the holidays. In fact, the CDC reports that suicide rates are at their lowest in December .
Unfortunately, over half of the newspaper stories published in 2019 on the holidays and suicide contained misinformation and falsely perpetuated the idea that suicides spike during the holiday season, reveals a recent analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania .
This falsely perpetuated myth that more people commit suicide during the holidays is not only untrue, it’s also dangerous because it can have a contagious effect on those contemplating suicide, shares APPC Research Director Dan Romer .
So this holiday season, remember that even though many people experience feelings of depression and grief during the holidays, suicide is not the answer. There is always hope, and there are many practical ways you can overcome holiday depression and grief and experience a positive (even joy-filled) holiday season.
Six Ways to Combat Holiday Depression & Grief
1. Recognize Your Feelings
If you’re entering the holiday season with feelings of depression, loneliness, grief, or anxiety, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge your feelings. During the holidays (a season advertised as ‘the happiest time of the year’), it can be easy to put on a brave face and hide your depression and grief. This response, however, often makes you feel more lonely, isolated, and sad.
So whether you’ve lost a loved one, experienced a difficult year, are physically separated from friends and family due to COVID-19, or are simply struggling more with your mental illness, give yourself permission to feel grief and sadness (without any judgment or shame), and know that these feelings will pass.
This might look like opening up about your feelings to a trusted friend or family member, writing down your thoughts in a journal, or simply having a good cry.
2. Reach Out
Many people withdraw and isolate themselves from others during times of grief and depression. This can be especially true if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one or missing your family during the holiday season. But while it may feel like the easiest choice to hide away from others, this will only perpetuate feelings of grief and depression.
So this holiday season, intentionally reach out to friends, family members, community, religious/social events, or support groups to find connection and support. And if COVID-19 makes in-person connecting more difficult, look for creative ways to reach out virtually. A simple phone call, text, zoom hang out, or virtual event can help you connect with others and give you the support you need this holiday season.
3. Help Others
Doing something nice to help other people is a proven way to lift your spirits and bring you a sense of connection and joy. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Make a simple meal or plate of cookies for a neighbor/friend
- Send letters to residents at a local nursing home
- Donate your time or resources to a local shelter or charity organization
- Call a grandparent or other relative and let them know you’re thinking of them this holiday
- Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you
- Shovel the sidewalk/driveway for an elderly neighbor
4. Set Realistic Standards
The holiday season comes with numerous pressures–to buy the ‘perfect gift,’ have the ‘perfect tree,’ or throw the ‘perfect party.’ Amidst all these unrealistic pressures, it’s easy to feel let down, discouraged, and depressed, especially if this season doesn’t feel like “the most wonderful time of the year” for you. The answer? Let go of impossible expectations and set a few realistic standards for this holiday season.
That might mean dropping or adjusting certain traditions that just won’t work this year (due to COVID-19, financial struggles, or the loss of a loved one), or it might look like prioritizing rest and relaxation over holiday shopping and gift-giving. Whatever it is for you, be honest with yourself and others, and set realistic standards that make you feel happy and at peace this holiday season.
5. Prioritize Self-Care
The holidays are famous for the hustle and bustle, the full calendars, and the never-ending shopping lists. But if you are struggling with grief or depression, this endless flurry of activity can leave you feeling drained and depleted, both emotionally and physically.
The best way to safeguard your mental health and combat the stress and anxiety of the season is to prioritize self-care. Here are a few tips to help you take care of your mind and body during the holidays:
- Set boundaries with friends/family, and don’t be afraid to say “no” to activities that add stress or anxiety to your schedule.
- Take time for yourself (take daily walks, do an activity you enjoy, listen to soothing music, read a book, go out for coffee, take a bubble bath, meditate and practice deep breathing, etc.).
- Limit social media consumption. Too much time on social media can greatly affect your mood and lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Eat regular meals and snacks with plenty of nutrition.
- Get outside in nature whenever possible. Even a short 10-minute walk can boost your spirit and make you feel more positive.
6. Seek Professional Help
Last but not least, if you find yourself struggling with holiday depression or grief, reach out to a professional mental health specialist for help. This is especially important if you have another co-occurring mental illness (e.g., an eating disorder) since depression and grief can often trigger co-occurring symptoms and behaviors.
And if meeting in-person with a professional is not an option right now, look for online therapists or online support groups to connect with.
Resources: Press Releases. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues.  ibid.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2008) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from: URL: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html. [Accessed 2011 Dec 13].  Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania (Ed.). (2020, December 1). In a holiday season unlike any other, avoid unfounded claims about suicide. Medical Xpress – medical research advances and health news. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-holiday-season-unfounded-suicide.html.  ibid.
About the Author:
Sarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.
Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published December 29, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on December 29, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC