What Causes the Holiday Blues?

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the holiday season traditionally represents a time of joy, harmony and cheer. Unfortunately for many, this time of year is also commonly associated with feelings of stress, gloom and depression.

There are plenty of reasons why people report greater feelings of sadness as the holidays approach. Here are a few key reasons behind what have come to be known as the holiday blues:

Pressure to Be Happy

The holiday season brings with it high expectations for happiness and merriment. People who don’t get quite as excited about decorations, holiday music and gift-giving might experience confusion or guilt about the disparity between their true feelings and how they believe they are supposed to feel. This phenomenon, though common, can cause individuals to dread the holidays before the season even officially starts.


Everyday feelings of loneliness are magnified during a time commonly associated with family, love and togetherness. The holidays can be especially hard on those who lack a significant other, or experience geographical or emotional separation from family, friends and loved ones.

Memories of Past Holidays

The holidays can be a painful reminder of happier times for those going through periods of struggle. People with sad holiday memories will often be reminded of troubled times, which can lead to feelings of sadness. Because the holidays are a time of reflection for many, they will also increase feelings of loss within people longing for beloved family members and friends who have passed away.

Financial Struggle

The season of gift-giving is a painful burden on people without the financial resources to buy presents for their loved ones. Those who can’t afford to give presents might feel guilty or left out of holiday celebrations.

Time Constraints

In addition to the demands of work, family and everyday life, the holidays bring added stress of shopping, cooking, hosting house guests, traveling, and attending office parties and family reunions. All the extra activity may contribute to feelings of fatigue or frustration.

Lack of Sunlight

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that becomes commonplace as the days grow shorter from fall through winter. Many people experience depression as a result of colder, darker days, and often find that they eat and sleep slightly more during the winter. The effects of SAD can range from mild to severe and increase among people who live farther away from the equator.

Managing the Blues

For those already feeling the gloom of a stressful holiday season, here are a few tips to help stay positive:

  • Help others: Volunteering to assist or give to those less fortunate during the holidays can boost spirits.
  • Organize time: Create a schedule, and stick to it, and avoid feeling overwhelmed with errands.
  • Seek sun: Getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight per day can help battle feelings of depression.
  • Create a budget: Before hitting the mall or grocery store, determine how much money can be spent without going into debt.
  • Take a break: Leave time aside to read a book, get a massage or listen to soothing music and put aside the stressors of the holiday season.
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