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Woman laying on the couch next to a Christmas tree, indicating symptoms of holiday depression

Coping with depression during the holidays

Jacob L. Comstock
By Jacob L. Comstock

As we wrap up Thanksgiving, we can feel the cold of winter really setting in, and snow has started to appear.  Last winter was so long and severe that some people with anxiety may be worrying about how they will approach another six months of winter.  For some, this an exciting time of year as we seem to go from one thrilling holiday to another. For others, the season is met with a sense of dread, creating intense anxiety and depression.

Depressive disorder involves having a sad mood, diminished interest, changes in eating and sleeping habits, loss of energy, struggles concentrating and thoughts or urges to end living.  Seasonal depression is often triggered by the change of seasons, shorter days, being inside for longer because of the cold, and having less interaction with others. For many with seasonal depression, it tends to happen during the winter season. The holiday season often prompts feelings of loneliness in connection to unintentional isolation, which can result in feelings of anxiety and depression. When these feelings and thoughts are lasting for two weeks or more, it is important to seek help. Having a coping plan can be helpful for those who aren’t excited for winter, and it’s very important for those who struggle with seasonal depression.

How do we cope during the holidays when experiencing depression?  One important way to cope is by validating our emotions. Validation is acknowledging your emotions. For example, we might say to ourselves: “It’s okay I feel the way I feel” or “it makes sense I feel this way.” Often, we attempt to ignore or push down our own emotions, which invalidates them. By validating our emotions, they feel less overwhelming.

When we are experiencing depression, we can engage in unhelpful coping. We might experience emotional urges to do things that help us feel better in the short term, but worse in the long term.  We might have the urge to isolate or avoid others, sleep or eat more than usual, abuse alcohol, medications or illegal substances, or even have thoughts about ending our own lives.  During these times, it’s important to not be reactive to our emotions. One effective coping tool that you can use for any of these situations is to choose the opposite of the emotional urge.  For example, if you have an urge to isolate, to act opposite might be joining in on family activities and participating.  If you are having thoughts of ending your life, acting opposite might look like seeking help and writing down purposes or reasons for living, whether it be your family, friends, a pet, your goals for the future, or your values.  Acting opposite may also be calling or texting the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or contacting your local crisis center (in Pocatello the phone number is 208-909-5177, and the Idaho Falls phone number is 208-522-0727).

How do we help others during their holiday depression?  You can do this much the same way as you might for yourself, including validating someone’s current anxiety or sadness. This may be done by stating, “it’s okay you feel this way” or “it makes sense you are feeling this way.” Oftentimes we try to help others see things differently and use statements like , “Yes, but, what about . . .” or “You could also look at it like this . . .” or “During the holidays you should be happy.” These statements tend to make others feel invalidated or maybe even stronger in their own feelings and beliefs as they then feel pushed to defend their feelings. Let those who may be struggling know you are present and care, and they are important to you.  This can be done by inviting them out to activities, writing them a letter or just regular contact through phone calls and text messages.

The days and weeks are moving fast as we move closer to the holiday season.  By taking into account ways to cope and validate how we and others feel, we are more likely to navigate through the season in a better place emotionally.

– Jacob Comstock is a licenses clinical social worker with Health West.



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