Christmas depression: how to deal with low mood during the festive season

Christmas may be be known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for a lot of people, it’s also an incredibly challenging time, too.

Not only does the big day fall just four days after the shortest day of the year – aka, the time when people who deal with SAD are most likely to be struggling – but the ‘organised fun’ of Christmas can feel suffocating for those who aren’t in the most jovial of spirits. 

Indeed, despite our best wishes for everyone to be at their happiest during the festive season, life just doesn’t work that way. 

Depression, low mood and other mental health conditions don’t just magically disappear as soon as the tinsel gets cracked out, and the stigma towards those who struggle to get into the festive spirit can make those experiences feel even more isolating than usual – especially when friends and family members are telling you to “cheer up” and “be merry”.  

Everywhere we look there is enormous added pressure on all of us to have a ‘picture perfect’ Christmas. We are bombarded with the image of the ideal Christmas everywhere we look, from adverts on TV, to the so-called ‘reality’ our social media feeds. 

“The images we see are often vastly different to our own realities and this disparity can easily make us feel as if we’ve failed and seriously affect our mood

Another big reason why people might experience worsened low mood or depression during the Christmas period is, as Love points out, the disparity between what we expect Christmas to be and what it actually is. 

And these feelings may be more widespread than you’d expect; according to research from the mental health charity Mind, one in three people are too embarrassed to admit they feel down and lonely at Christmas, with one in five people feeling like they have nowhere to turn for support.

Here are some methods to help you cope with low mood over Christmas.

Nail the basics

As obvious as it may sound, making sure you’re taking care of yourself during the festive season is incredibly important. If you’re travelling at Christmas and staying at a friend’s or family member’s house, keep in mind that your routine may be disrupted, and try to minimise that bump as much as you can.

For example, if your usual self care routine for when you’re feeling particularly low involves taking yourself away and watching Netflix for a bit, you need to make sure you allow yourself to do those things if you need to, even when you’re away from home. It’s essential to prioritise the things that make you feel better – just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the routine you’ve put in place to manage your mental health.

2. Talk it out

When you’re feeling low and depressed during the Christmas season, it’s more important than ever to talk to those around you about what you’re going through. Instead of hiding yourself away and avoiding friends and family, try to reach out, help them to understand what you’re going through and lean on them for support.

3. Stay away from social media

Social media can be damaging for our mental health at the best of times, so during the festive period – when people are sharing highlights of their ‘perfect Christmas’ – it’s best to stay away.

“Limit your use of social media as everyone else always seem to be having more fun than you,” advises Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan. “Sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat can have a direct negative impact on feelings of loneliness, anxiety and low mood. In fact, studies have shown the more time people spend on Facebook, the lonelier and more dissatisfied they become with their own life.  On the other hand, people who limited their use of social media to 10 minutes per platform, per day, experienced significant reductions in loneliness and depression over a three week period than those who continued using social media as normal.”

4. Do something different

Getting out of the house and doing something different can be a great way to distract yourself from the pressure of the Christmas period. While it can be hard for people dealing with depression to get out and about for a number of reasons, if you’re able to do so, getting involved with community projects and activities can be a great way to give yourself something to focus on over the Christmas period.