Christmas Blues: Why Do I Feel Sad During Christmas

Christmas is a time for holiday cheer, but for some, it’s quite the opposite. The Christmas blues, which cause short-term mental distress, plague many people during the holidays. The holiday season often comes with increased financial pressure, social anxieties, and loneliness—all factors that can lead to higher levels of stress and unhappiness.

Key takeaways:
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    Christmas blues is the temporary mental distress, anxiety, and depression that occur during Christmas and the holiday season.
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    About 64% of people who already have a mental illness say that the holidays make their condition worse.
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    Mindfulness, exercise, therapy, and healthy eating are all ways to help overcome the Christmas blues.
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    Post-Christmas blues usually occur because of intense and heightened emotions around Christmas time.

Christmas blues, or holiday blues, are not the same as mental illness, but these short-term mental health problems should be taken seriously. Left untreated, they can turn into a long-term clinical diagnosis.

What is the meaning of 'Christmas blues'?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines the "Christmas blues" or "holiday blues" as temporary feelings of anxiety and depression that happen around the holidays because of extra stress, unrealistic expectations, or even bad memories.

NAMI discovered that the Christmas blues are a very common occurrence for many people. However, how the season affects everyone varies significantly. Of the 755 people in the NAMI survey:

  • 66% of people experienced increased loneliness.
  • 63% felt too much pressure around the holidays.
  • 57% had unrealistic expectations about Christmas and the holidays.
  • 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past compared to the present.
  • 50% were sad about being unable to be with loved ones.

The Christmas blues are known to affect people who suffer from anxiety and depression more than those who do not. 64% of people who already have a mental illness say that the holidays make their condition worse.

Why do I feel depressed during Christmas?

Busy holiday schedules can be stressful for anyone, but your holiday depression symptoms could be caused by a few different things. For one, the holiday season is prime family time. Holiday celebrations can be especially tough if you’ve lost loved ones.

If you feel your Christmas isn't living up to popular ideas of the season, the expectation for Christmas cheer and happiness can lead to negative thinking or despair. The weather may even increase your Christmas blues. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that is brought on by the shorter days of winter.

Increased stress

The ever-so-hectic holidays are full of unexpected stresses. For example, gift shopping can be fun, but it can also require extra money. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that about one in five adults worry about how they will pay for holiday gifts.

Prepping for holiday celebrations can also be a major stressor. Parents may feel pressure to deliver on their children’s expectations. If you’re hosting a holiday party, you’ll likely have to consider many aspects of the planning process to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Being not perfect

Seeing friends and family post happy Christmas photos can lead to feelings of inadequacy or envy.

Outside of social media, spending time with family and friends you don’t see often can prompt insecurities as well. Younger adults express anxiety about interacting with lesser-known family members during the holidays.

Adults with a history of substance abuse may be worried about drinking too much, and those with insecurities about weight and health tend to feel stress about holiday food.

Being lonely

According to the APA, depression, and anxiety over lost loved ones during the holidays affect nearly half of all American adults.

Not having family around during the holidays can lead to sadness and negative thinking, which can greatly cloud your Christmas season.

Sometimes, the one missing out on the holidays is you. Whether dealing with excessive holiday work hours or an inability to travel due to financial strain, it can be hard not to spend Christmas with the ones you love. This is especially true if you have witnessed your family’s celebrations via social media.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a real phenomenon. A recent study found that 70% of people have experienced FOMO at least once.

Ways to beat the Christmas blues

The Christmas blues affect everyone differently. Some may experience changes in appetite and sleep patterns and a loss of pleasure in things they used to enjoy. Others may have difficulty concentrating or feel more tired than usual.

Fortunately, no matter how bad your holiday blues are, there are ways to combat and even mitigate their effects.

Find time for self-care

Exciting holiday plans can be enjoyable, but it’s important not to get overwhelmed.

Find time to relax and do things you enjoy, whether that’s listening to music, reading, watching shows, or spending time with friends.

Make sure to get enough sleep and set clear limits for yourself. Also, try to spend less time on social media. Spending more time on social media has been linked to an increased risk of depression.

Be active

Regular exercise is a mood booster. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that just one hour of exercise a week can cut the risk of depression by a lot.

Small changes in your everyday routine, like morning stretches or opting for stairs instead of the elevator, can make a big difference.

Try out mindfulness

It’s important to know your limits, and mindfulness can help with that. Mindfulness is the practice of the presence of the mind, or being fully present.

A Georgetown University study found that practicing mindfulness and meditation (or MBSR) helped reduce anxiety by 30%. Being mindful of your time and energy and saying no to things that may lead to anxiety can help decrease your Christmas blues.

Have a positive mindset

Many times, unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointments during the holidays. However, you can counter negative thinking with a change in perspective.

Give gifts that are free or don't cost much to relieve stress about money. Focus on one or two family members or friends you are excited to see to lower family anxiety.

You can even volunteer at local charities to help those in need. According to a Cleveland Clinic study, altruistic acts help increase self-esteem and lower stress levels.

Watch your diet

How you eat and drink can affect your mood, especially during the holidays. To better manage your Christmas blues, try eating in moderation.

Consider eating vitamin D-rich foods such as tofu and salmon or taking a vitamin D supplement. Because there is less sun in the winter, there is less vitamin D in the body, which can make depression more likely.

Finally, try not to drink when you’re feeling down. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can increase those negative feelings.

See a specialist

If your Christmas blues are getting too heavy, you might want to see a specialist. Talking to a therapist about your stress or sadness can help you understand them and find ways to cope with them.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially helpful for the holiday blues because it is known to help people with depression and anxiety, which are two of the main symptoms of the holiday blues.

What if I have post-Christmas blues?

While Christmas blues happen during the season, post-Christmas, or “day after Christmas blues," refer to the short-term anxiety, sadness, and mental distress that occurs after the holiday season.

If you feel depressed after Christmas, you may have post-Christmas blues. Some of this increase in distress may be due to a phenomenon called “post-vacation syndrome,” where people must find a new normal after a significant amount of time without their usual routine.

Like the holiday blues, symptoms can include stress and anxiety. But unlike the Christmas blues, a feeling of emptiness could happen after the holidays, which is a time when emotions are often very high. You may also feel lonely or like you've lost something after being so close to a lot of family and friends.

Though the symptoms differ from those of the Christmas blues, the treatment for the post-Christmas blues is the same. Focusing on mindfulness and self-care and considering therapy can still help.


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