Misconceptions about Depression & the Holidays – What Are the Facts?

Despite what we’ve heard, there are currently no systemic reviews that show an increase in depression during the holiday season. On the contrary, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression that leads to higher rates of self-harm and suicide often seems to occur in spring and summer. Most years, in fact, December tends to be the month with the least suicides.

Still, let’s clarify something else. CDC statistics do not change the reality that the holiday season brings with it an awful lot of stress. The expectations, the family, the finances, the memories- all of it can be a lot. This means we must never underestimate the seasonal impact. 

So how should we view the holidays? Does it matter?

Yes, it does. To be self-aware and able to gain some perspective is always a good thing. To honestly know what you feel and how to chart your own holiday course is valuable when so many ideas of how we “should” feel is pinned on this time of year. 

So let’s examine common holiday misconceptions and talk facts:

Why Myths About Depression and the Holidays Must Be Exposed

In an age of fake news and alternative facts, it’s always a good idea to discover and share the truth. The spread of false information can result in serious problems. Specifically, on this topic, it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies find that people with mental health disorders are vulnerable to such suggestions.

Translation: Encountering a barrage of clickbait headlines about depression and the holidays, can encourage people who are already low to feel even lower. Therefore, it is our duty to expose a dangerous myth.

The “Holiday Blues” Are Still Real

Research from the American Psychological Association highlights the complexity of what we typically deem to be the “holiday season.” For example:

Competing moods

Most respondents reported a paradox. They felt more happiness, community, and joy in December. Simultaneously, they felt more sadness, fatigue, mood swings, and stress than usual.

Common Causes of Holiday Stress

  • Too much focus on materialism
  • Time pressures
  • Financial concerns
  • Dealing with family
  • Guilt and pressure related to gift-giving

Unexpected Sources of Stress

Less than one-third felt more holiday stress at home. The worst venue for emotional upset was on the job. Fifty-six percent reported the workplace as the main issue.

The take-home messages here are important:

  • December is not ground zero for depression and suicidal ideation
  • Regardless, the holiday blues are real and deserve attention
  • It is essential to understand the causes and take self-help steps to prepare in advance

Dealing With the Holiday Blues & Holiday Stress

Perhaps the primary cause of holiday-related sadness is social isolation. At any time of year, isolation is a predictor of depression. In December, it may feel more heightened. If you have a small social circle, you may feel judged. If you are grieving, all the festivities can deepen your sense of loss. You wonder why everyone else seems to be happier than you.

On a parallel track, you have the stressors listed above. If you’re already feeling down, it won’t help to feel pressure over time, family drama, overeating, or overspending. Therefore, it can be doubly powerful to address the stress via suggestions like these:

Downsize Without Guilt

You don’t need to go overboard. At the moment, it could feel necessary. In reality, who remembers much about the holidays after January 2?

Maintain Your Routines As Much As Possible

Don’t allow the holidays to prevent you from practicing self-care. They are not an excuse to stop working out or get less sleep or eat unhealthy snacks.

Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Resolutions

Nowhere is it carved in stone that you must make “New Year’s Resolutions.” You can create change on the other 364 days — feeling far less pressure.

Help Others Less Fortunate Than You

This gifts you with a bigger, deeper perspective. It can also teach valuable lessons about gratitude.

December may not be as depressing as we are led to believe. This doesn’t mean you won’t hit some rough patches. If you do, you don’t have to suffer or beat yourself up for any reason, seasonal or otherwise.

Show yourself some goodwill. Read more about therapy, and reach out. I’m here to help. Sometimes connecting with a skilled professional is the holiday gift you really need.

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