5 Tips for Handling Depression During the Holidays

5 Tips for Handling Depression During the Holidays

The holidays can be a not-so-merry season for those who suffer with depression. The rest of the world seems to be in a constant state of cheer, and this can amplify feelings of isolation. Everything from stores to commercials surround us with months of celebration, and the inability to feel this joy is not only frustrating, but can also exacerbate the symptoms of depression.

Our families and friends want us to join them at parties and gatherings while depression wants us to crawl under a blanket and wait for January. So what can you do to survive the upcoming holidays and manage your depression?


1. Know That You Are Not Alone

When you are caught up in this isolation, it is crucial that you remember that you are not alone. Major depressive disorder alone affects approximately 14.8 million adults over the age of 18 in America in any given year. The holidays are no exception. One article reports that non-millennials were 32% more likely to travel to avoid seeing family. That’s a lot of people wanting to hide under blankets.

Depression is by nature an illness of isolation. The social stigma for those that struggle with mental health is very real. One glance at Facebook and you think everyone is happy 24/7 and living an amazing life. Very few people are willing to get real and be honest about topics like depression, leaving those that suffer to feel different and set apart from the rest of society.

People with depression often feel telling others about how they feel will be a burden or a downer to the listening party. So they suffer in silence, isolate from others as much as possible, or force a smile when someone asks how they are doing. This only furthers the feelings of isolation and builds a wall between the sufferer and potential avenues of relief.


2. Reach Out for Support 

Now that we’ve established you are not the only one suffering, it’s important to remind yourself that support does exist. You are not protecting family and friends by smiling when you want to cry or by lying when they ask how you are doing. Try being honest and shutting off that voice telling you nobody cares if you are sad. People care but they can’t know what is going on with you unless you tell them.

If reaching out to family and friends is off the table for you, remember there are online support groups and forums. These can be accessed at any time from the comfort of any blanket fort. You might find that venting about your feelings or comforting someone else that is also suffering brings you a great deal of relief. The kindness of strangers exists and it’s out there if you reach for it.

So maybe an online forum isn’t for you and family and friends are a no-go. This is when hotlines come into play. You can chat online with an advocate for support or call one anonymously. Sometimes just hearing a soothing voice on the other end of the phone is all you need to get through the night. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a local hotline in your area. And before you roll your eyes or think it’s lame to call a hotline, think twice. A simple phone call can save a life. Your life.


3. Keep Therapy Appointments and Take Your Meds

This seems obvious, but for many that suffer from depression, it isn’t always easy to keep appointments. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, and driving to see someone can feel like a herculean effort. Do whatever you have to do to get there. Reward yourself with something for going if that helps. Just get there. This is vital to your self-care and can be a powerful ally in helping you survive the holidays.

Medication can be frustrating. Everything from side effects to the fact that you are still depressed despite taking medication can make it easy to toss those prescriptions in the trash. But studies like this one by Rutgers University Professor Ayce Akincigil state that, “treatment adherence is important in achieving effectiveness, i.e., remission, restoring previous levels of functioning, and preventing reoccurrence. Specifically, antidepressants are recommended to be continued for at least 4 months beyond the initial symptom resolution.” That means taking the medication even when it seems to not be working and even when it does.

Recruit your partner, spouse, family member, or friend in your efforts. Have them remind you of appointments or possibly go with you for support. Have them remind you about your medication so that you take it at the same time every day. Set an alarm if you don’t want to assign anyone else these tasks. The important thing is that you do what it takes to get the support you need.


4. Practice Self-Care

The holidays are focused on what we need to do or should do for others. It’s easy to get lost in that shuffle and even easier if you suffer from depression. Remember to take care of yourself and do so without guilt. This can mean anything, like showering daily, getting enough sleep, or going to get a massage. Listen to what your body and soul tells you it needs and give generously.

Get enough sunshine and exercise—both things that seem impossible when you are depressed. Take a short walk with a friend or swim some laps at an indoor heated pool. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. According to this article the benefits of exercise can last longer than antidepressants and study participants were found to have significantly reduced symptoms of depression with mild to moderate regular exercise.

The important thing is to spend time taking care of yourself and doing what you love. Watch movies that make you laugh or spend time with your pets. Read a book that brings you comfort. Listen to mood boosting music, even if your depression makes you want to play Adele on repeat (no offense, Adele). Do whatever takes you out of your own head for at least a little while. You might not experience ecstatic joy, but you can experience comfort and that’s something.


5. Know This Too Shall Pass

If nothing in this article helps, know that this holiday season will pass just like all of the ones before it. Thanksgiving is over in a day, and January will be here before you know it. Mark off the days on your calendar and know that sunnier warmer skies are headed your way. No holiday season lasts forever, and this one is no exception.

When suffering from depression, it is easy to get into the mindset that it will last forever, and every moment is agony. Depression itself has no time limit but there will be brighter days in the future. You will not suffer forever. Don’t believe the lies that depression tells you. Write down days you experienced happiness in the past and remind yourself that those days exist.

When you can’t believe that this too shall pass, seek out those that can and do believe it for you. Speak to family, friends, forums, and hotline advocates and let them remind you. Sometimes hearing reassurance from a stranger goes a long way against the negativity our minds wage against us during depressive episodes.


There is no perfect plan when dealing with depression during the holidays or any time of year. But here’s to getting through it and helping others fight when we can.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.