holiday depression

Holiday Depression: Some Perspectives on End-of-Year Despair

Originally published on December 21, 2022

The Return of Holiday Depression

The conclusion of the year is upon us once more, and that can only mean one thing: the holidays are right around the corner (if not already here). And while our end-of-year celebrations can be fun and joyous times, for many, they serve as difficult and depressing ones.

Since you’re reading this post, I imagine you know that already and are searching for some helpful ideas on the subject. If so, great — I’ll do my best to provide a couple. But before we get to them, I think a few disclaimers or acknowledgments are in order.

First, when putting forth the kind of advice I’m about to provide, it can sometimes feel like I’m claiming I have all the answers, downplaying your struggles, or suggesting said battles will disappear tomorrow. I acknowledge those potential pitfalls and respond by saying: though such interpretations come with the territory of self-help-related content, they’re most certainly not my intention.

In reality, all I’m attempting to do here is offer you a little hope and get you through the holidays — not anger you or make you feel worse than you already do. Thus, as you read this post, please remember I’m here for you and on your side, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

Second, when we’re struggling, one of the last things we want to hear from others is, “I know what you’re going through.” Don’t worry, though; you won’t find that phrase coming from me today because, frankly, I don’t know what you’re dealing with or how painful it may be. And while that omission will save all of us some irritation, my “not knowing” also means I probably won’t get everything right here. As such, I apologize for that in advance and will simply do the best I can.

And, finally, if you ever want to talk about holiday depression one-on-one, shoot me a direct message on Instagram (@getoutofyourhead) or leave a comment in the box below. I promise I’ll get back to you within a couple of days. Hopefully sooner, though.

The First Kind of Holiday Depression: Reminders of Our Losses

If you’re dealing with holiday depression right now or have experienced it in the past, I’m sure you can relate to how our end-of-year festivities put the spotlight on and amplify our misfortunes. Everywhere we look, we see happy faces — on TV, in our favorite mobile apps, and at festive gatherings — and they remind us we don’t feel the same way.

Though this discrepancy is painful enough, it isn’t always the end of our troubles. In fact, it’s often just the beginning.

As we wade deeper into our sorrows, we remember the exact reasons for our despair. For example, maybe we lost a loved one last summer or are unsatisfactorily single for this round of year-end celebrations. Or, frustratingly enough, perhaps we have no reason at all.

Yet, no matter the cause (or lack thereof), our holiday gatherings serve as harrowing reminders of such losses and hardships; we observe families and friends celebrating around us and think, “Yeah, I’m happy for you and all, but where is my loved one?” or “Why can’t I experience some joy this year?”

As unpleasant as these questions and emotions are to deal with, many of them stem from the weight and “rules” we assign to our year-end festivities. For example, some of the more popular holiday jingles tell us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and “nobody oughta be alone on Christmas” — phrases we then use as benchmarks for our experiences.

Though I’m a big fan of such music, in general, and actually kind of love the two songs I’m referring to, I admit that these tunes can create unrealistic expectations that set us up for gloom. For, let’s face it: how are we supposed to feel if we don’t currently think it’s the best time of the year or we actually are alone during it?

That brings me to the only real advice I have for such troubling moments. 

First, remember that it’s okay to not be okay, especially during emotionally charged times of the year. What’s not alright, however, is to hold all your pain in and suffer in silence.

You’ve been through (or are still enduring) a lot. That takes immense strength. Give yourself credit for it. Heck, even grieve some, if that’s what the occasion calls for — it might make you feel a bit better afterward.

Second, know that, just like any other season, the holidays will eventually pass, and with them, so will the surging emotions.

And third, remind yourself that pain grows as we focus on it. Or, to put it in a totally different fashion, one of the best things we can do for our mental health during this time of year is find ways to distract ourselves from the reminders of our losses (or simply the losses themselves) until mid-January rolls around.

For example, we could throw ourselves into a new book or online course, cook a meal from scratch, shovel the neighbor’s driveway, or walk around the block — the possibilities are plentiful. And though our problematic emotions (or the actual problems behind them) won’t magically vanish upon us engaging in one of these simple activities, doing so can still get our minds off our struggles temporarily.

And why should we care about that? Because, after stringing together enough of these small wins, we may turn around and find ourselves on the other side of our holiday blues.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m definitely not suggesting we lock ourselves in our rooms until January and ignore Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa altogether. All I’m saying is we need to put ourselves and our mental health first. In other words, if dialing back the caroling or adopting an entirely new holiday tradition (one that doesn’t remind us of yesteryear) helps lift our spirits, why not embrace such a plan?

The Second Kind of Holiday Depression: Regretting the Year That Just Passed

Though Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are some of the first celebrations that come to mind when considering “the holidays,” they’re not the only ones on tap — we’ve also got New Year’s quickly approaching.

And while I think holiday depression is a bit less frequently linked to the year’s final (or first, depending on how you look at it) festivity, it’s still a common source of despair, and, as such, I want to make sure we talk about it.

For most of us, the depression we associate with this big day falls into one of two categories. First, there’s the kind we covered in the previous section — the distressing reminder that we’re entering another year single or in the absence of a particular family member or friend.

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s the first grouping above (a romantic void) that drives a majority of our collective, NY-related agony. Namely, when we look around as the ball drops and see pretty, happy couples dancing and kissing, one of the first things we ask ourselves is, “Why don’t I have that?” — creating another vexing discrepancy between our expectations and reality.

Yet, there’s also another kind of melancholy linked with ringing in the new year, and it’s one you’re likely familiar with as well: the feeling that time is flying by or that you didn’t make the most of the twelve months that just passed.

The regrets associated with such realizations are often extremely difficult to deal with, as they represent a unique and profound kind of loss: the slipping away of our days on Earth and the worry that we’re not spending them as efficiently or effectively as we should be.

Yet, regardless of the onerousness of both of these NY-related forms of despair, there is something we can do about them: listen to the pain they bring and see what it’s trying to tell us. For example, could the gloom we experience when we find ourselves alone on New Year’s be a message that it’s finally time to get back out there and find that special someone?

Or, could the anguish we encounter when we think about how quickly the past twelve months elapsed be our brain’s way of pushing us to start pursuing our biggest goals and living in a way that minimizes the regret we’ll face next year (or at the end of our lives)? That’s one empowering way to interpret it, at least, and the one to which I subscribe.

As with all depression-related advice, however, I want to make sure I leave some room for nuance and emphasize an important point here. That is, I’m not saying our lives will instantly be amazing if we simply acknowledge some of our difficult emotions.

Instead, all I’m getting at is that if we’re regularly enduring depression in specific moments or places — especially during New Year’s celebrations — digging deeper could allow us to determine what it is that’s gnawing away at us and help us cultivate plans for moving past it.

Assuming we opt for such an approach, we should begin carrying out those corresponding plans as quickly as possible (and, yes, I realize that’s no small feat). Otherwise, our pain may soon subside and lure us into complacency once more.

Of course, as with any major endeavor — be it finding a new job or partner, starting a company, or getting in shape — achieving our desired end will take time and effort. And that means it will likely be weeks or months before we work through the driving forces behind our holiday depression.

But just because such quests are daunting doesn’t mean we should keep running away from them. For, if we’re dealing with something “fixable” like the items I listed in the above paragraph, and we don’t go about trying to rectify it, that same problem will likely still be there next holiday season, waiting to deliver us another dose of despair.

Wishing You Happy Holidays — Or at Least Depression-Free Ones

Despite the perspectives I threw at you in this post, it still goes without saying: the holidays can be some of the more trying and troubling times of the year. Thus, no matter the reason for your misery this season, I send you some hope and love.

Though it rarely feels like it when you’re in the middle of melancholy, remember that you’re not alone in this battle and that things will eventually get better.

It won’t happen overnight, but in time, a light at the end of the tunnel will appear. Set your sights on whatever that might look like, make it your goal for the year ahead, and do everything in your power to bring it to fruition (therapy, medication, self-help books, exercise routines, etc.).

Again, if you ever want to talk about anything you read here or holiday depression in general, drop me a note in the comments below or send me a DM on Instagram (@getoutofyourhead).

In closing, I wish you happy holidays, or, at the very least, ones that aren’t full of angst and despair. Oh, and if you want to go deeper on this subject or grab yourself a last-minute holiday gift, check out my second book, Get Out of Your Head Vol. 2: Navigating the Abyss of Depression. And, if money’s tight this year, please reach out, as I may have a few promo copies lying around. It’s the giving season, after all :-)

Want Even More Content on Managing Depression?

Then check out some of my previous posts on the subject. I’ve linked to a few below:

Depression-Promoting Behavior Loops: How Social Media is Rewarding Us in All the Wrong Ways

Pattern Recognition: Fighting Despair with Awareness

**Above image designed and owned by Brian Sachetta ©2022

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