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Ho, Ho, Ho-Hum: Holidays Not Always Filled With Joy

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For those that didn't grow up on Walton's Mountain, childhood was not always a fairy tale. The holidays can bring a lot of family around, and that can cause stress. Unresolved feelings may try again, unsuccessfully, to resolve themselves. Bad memories may resurface, or feelings that have been simmering all year may flare up around the holidays. Perhaps a loved one died around the holidays last year. Just fill in the blank: the emotional reasons can be numerous.

"A lot of times, people think that somewhere out there, there's an ideal family. I haven't met one yet," clinical psychologist Patricia Gore tells WebMD. "The reality of what has happened in the past is not in any way close to what the ideal is, so people start thinking, they get sad because they think about what's missing. Or maybe somebody who isn't here this year who was there last year, maybe somebody's died, or -- in the case of most of the people I work with -- it's sad memories of things that happened at holiday times," she says.

Physically, too, the holidays may be the final straw in a the busy-career, two-kids-and-a-spouse, multiple-responsibility, workaday life. And then, financially, some people may not be able to afford the holiday they'd like, or feel they're supposed to have.

Gore says a little perspective can go a long way. "Something I try to point out to people, it's only one day, it's only one day, it's like any other day, and it will come and it will go and that's it," she tells WebMD.

The Mayo Clinic has some suggestions to help ease the strain. Acknowledge feelings, be realistic, set differences aside, if possible, and resolve family issues after the holidays. If necessary, seek out help or support if the issues are overwhelming. Budget money and time. Retain healthy habits; don't use the holidays as a time just to eat, drink, and be substance-induced merry. Meanwhile, stay in the spirit.

"In fact, it really is [A Wonderful Life]," Gore tells WebMD. "So what I try to do is get people to look at what they do have. Maybe it's not the ideal, maybe it's not textbook, maybe it's not the picture-perfect Christmas that you'd like to think about, but there are a lot of positive and good things in their life, and I try to get them to focus on that. ... Of course, the best way to get over the holiday blues is to do something nice for someone else."

Vital Information:

  • The holiday season can make many people feel sad and lonely, which can be caused by lifestyle changes or a clinical depression called seasonal affective disorder.
  • Even among nondepressed people, the winter months are associated with the most negative moods, researchers say.
  • Some advice to help ease the stress of the holidays: acknowledge your feelings, have realistic expectations, budget your money and time, and retain healthy habits.
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