Fighting depression during the holiday season

Develop a strategy to help you avoid triggers, manage stress and enjoy the annual festivities

  • Understand the difference between an occasional case of the blues and depression
  • Don’t let unrealistic expectations hamper your holiday
  • Plan ahead


Let’s face it. The idealized version of the holidays that depicts a happy family gathered around a table loaded with everyone’s favorite foods and a large pile of perfectly wrapped presents waiting nearby may be more likely to happen in Norman Rockwell paintings and Hallmark movies.

The reality is often very different.

For many people, Santa’s list includes unrealistic expectations, strained finances, difficult family dynamics, feelings of loss, and a myriad of other emotions and experiences that can bring on a case of the blues.

It’s normal to experience temporary periods of sadness as you cope with the inevitable stressors that occur during the holiday season. If those feeling become overwhelming or linger past two weeks, it may be more serious than a case of the blues.  You could be depressed.

Depression is different than sadness. Depression is a serious medical condition that interferes with your daily life and requires professional treatment for lasting relief.

Depression is different than sadness. Depression is a serious medical condition that interferes with your daily life and requires professional treatment for lasting relief. Some of the symptoms of depression are:

  • Feeling empty, sad or hopeless
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoyed previously
  • Inappropriate, excessive guilt
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Foggy, confused thought processes
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Although the holidays are inherently demanding, they don’t have to be a time of suffering and sadness. Here are 11 ways to reduce your holiday stress and enjoy the festivities in a way that leaves you merry and bright.

  • Create a plan for managing stress that may include meditation, exercise or ways to relax.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Set reasonable expectations for your gift-giving, entertaining, activities and commitments.
  • Determine a realistic budget and stick to it.
  • Splurge occasionally but eat and drink in moderation most of the time.
  • Take time to relax and regenerate but don’t isolate yourself.
  • Get regular exercise—even a short walk makes a difference.
  • Keep your to-do list short, simple and manageable.
  • Acknowledge your feelings of loss and sadness.
  • Learn to say “no.”
  • Try something new to replace traditions you no longer enjoy.

With a little planning and some proactive steps, the holidays may become something you look forward to with anticipation instead of dread. 

Find a doctor

If you are struggling with depression or sadness that keeps you from fully participating in your annual celebrations, the compassionate professionals at Swedish can help you get back your holiday spirit. Find a doctor you can trust in our provider directory.

Share your strategies to keep the #holidayblues at bay with readers @swedish.

Related resources

Coping with grief

Seasonal affective disorder

3 ways to avoid triggering the post-holiday blues

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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