Gifts tied up with ribbons, candles and trees glowing with light
and the sweet smells of seasonal dishes signal the holiday season,
but for some the holidays are neither filled with joy nor
Ali Flemate understands that feeling.
She has personally experienced depression associated with the
holiday season and has also witnessed her parents and her teachers
struggle with the problem.
“A lot of stress comes with the holidays. Finances can be tight
and there is a stigma that people should be happy and always be
cheerful,” said Flemate, a sophomore social work major.
Holiday depression, also called the “holiday blues,” is a common
problem for Americans and can occur for a variety of reasons, said
Dr. Jay Hessler, a psychiatric nurse practitioner for the Hartshorn
“It is a pretty significant problem and there are a lot of
causes that go along with the ‘holiday blues’ because it is a
stressful period of time,” Hessler said. “People have a fear of
disappointing others and they have unrealistic expectations of the
Flemate agreed that, in her experience, there are numerous
reasons for the onset of depression during the holiday season.
“There are finals and wanting to end the year on a good note.
Finances are stressful and you feel stress from other people;
everything is so busy,” Flemate said. “It is hard to keep up.”
Rebecca Quillen, a junior interior design major, comes from a
family of musicians and said her family members become overwhelmed
by the additional concerts required for the holiday season.
“The extra concerts, the extra work, create stress. There is so
much to do over the holidays; so much is going on,” Quillen said.
“People get down because they are stressed out and they are trying
to shop for everybody and go to different events.”
In addition to the stress that accompanies the holiday season,
people often become depressed when they “remember painful events in
their past or think of happier times,” Hessler said.
Shantel Ho, a junior zoology major, has never witnessed holiday
depression but believes dwelling on the past could be a significant
part of the seasonal blues.
“If someone is alone, with no friends or family, I would think
it would be a hard time of year because you’d think about the
past,” Ho said.
The various holiday pressures often induce stress responses in
individuals and symptoms of the holiday blues, which can include
headaches, drinking excessively, over-eating and difficulty
sleeping, according to the National Mental Health Association.
People withdrawing from their daily tasks can also characterize
holiday season depression, Hessler said.
“Their energy level decreases, they have a lack of motivation
and people tend to get down on themselves,” he said. “They
withdraw; they don’t want to be around others and have problems
Women are twice as likely as men to develop holiday depression,
but the reason for the gender gap remains vague.
“There are too many theories to number,” Hessler said. “Hormones
probably come into play with females and the social stressors are
different for females than males.”
To avoid the holiday blues, Hessler recommends people put the
holidays in perspective.
“Be realistic and remember that the holidays don’t solve past
problems,” Hessler said. “Give yourself permission not to feel
cheerful all of the time and be honest about your needs and
Flemate said she deals with holiday season stress by trying to
take time for herself.
“It’s important to take a break, to go somewhere by yourself or
pamper yourself,” she said.
When the gifts are unwrapped, the holiday decorations are packed
away and the favorite holiday foods are simply leftovers, holiday
depression should also end.
However, if the holiday depression symptoms do not recede with
the season’s conclusion, the problem may be more serious than the
“If the holiday blues don’t dissolve or dissipate after the
holidays there could be potential for a major problem like Seasonal
Affective Disorder or true Major Depressive Disorder,” Hessler
Martin Dangelmayr noticed his sister became depressed when
autumn turned into winter, but said he doesn’t believe that her
depression is a result of the holidays.
“Winter’s arriving and my sister gets depressed as soon as it
gets cold,” said Dangelmayr, a junior chemistry major.
The actual winter season, rather than the stressors that
accompany it, is the major reasons individuals develop SAD. MDD
occurs for a variety of reasons and is characterized as having more
depressive symptoms than other forms of depression.
These more serious forms of depression occur for different
reasons than holiday depression and the individuals who suffer from
SAD and MDD may exhibit further symptoms of depression, including
feelings of violence.
Although it is important to understand possible explanations for
depression that continues past the holiday season, it is also
important to realize that holiday depression commonly extends
slightly beyond the season’s end.
Post-holiday letdown is often more common than holiday
depression and occurs due to holiday season outcome disappointments
and the stress that accompanies the holidays, according to the
Hessler recommends visiting a medical professional if the
“holiday blues” do not disappear shortly after the holiday
stressors, but as for individuals who suffer from holiday
depression, he emphasized that the holidays do not have to lead to
stress and depression.
“Just slow down and enjoy,” he said. “Give yourself time to
relax and try to do things for yourself as well as others.”