Managing Depression During the Winter Holidays

Carolyn Tinglin_Registered Nurse Carolyn Tinglin is a Registered Nurse with a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Science. Her passion is healthy aging. Throughout her career, she has published numerous articles on health, wellness, aging and recently presented at the International Council on Active Aging conference. Carolyn also works as an assistant professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.

For many of us, the holidays represent a time of togetherness, family, reflection and celebration. But for others, the holidays bring a sense of sadness, loss and depression. Many among us who fear or dread the holidays, have painful and/or unexplored feelings and memories that are especially difficult during this time. Whether you have an official diagnosis of seasonal depression, or you have anxiety, fear or dread related to the holidays, there are a number of vital self-care activities you can practice to manage those feelings during the holidays.


Who is at risk for depression during the winter holidays?

Individuals at risk are often socially isolated – they don’t have close social connections with family, friends or neighbors. The holidays remind them of how disconnected and lonely they are in comparison to those who are more socially active during this time.  Individuals who are grieving the loss of a family member, friend or pet may be reminded of their loss during the winter holiday season. Because winter holidays are often considered family time, the season can trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness and loss.  People who regularly become sad and depressed during particular seasons, may have what’s known as “seasonal affective disorder”. 

What are the signs and symptoms of winter holiday or seasonal depression?

Winter holiday depression sometimes begins as early as the fall and can be amplified during the winter holidays.  Other than sadness, behaviours such as anger, withdrawal, hopelessness, decreased energy, loss of appetite, weight gain, irritability and anxiety may be observed.

What can be done to manage feelings of sadness during the holidays?

  1. Positive self-talk – be gentle on yourself and know that it’s OK to experience these feelings. Use positive, self-affirming language when reflecting on your feelings (“I can, I will, I’m ok with”).
  2. Talk to someone – there are a number of depression helplines available throughout the lower mainland. If you can’t think of anyone who is close to you or who you trust (like a church member, family, or even a neighbour) call the depression helpline and speak to someone about your feelings. Search online or talk to your Doctor for a recommendation.
  3. Don’t forget about your diet – your diet can have an impact on the way you think and feel. Eat a balanced diet filled with fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
  4. Befriend the sun – the sun is considered to be a natural mood booster. Light from the sun changes the amount of seratonin in your blood. Seratonin is an important neurotransmitter that sends signals to and from various parts of your brain and body, which has an impact on mood, sleep and memory. Walking, gardening or riding a bike outside during the daytime are enjoyable activities that expose our bodies to light (be sure to wear your sunscreen when necessary).
  5. Seek professional help – If you’re experiencing sadness for extended periods of time during the winter holidays, or you’re feeling overwhelmed, under-supported, contact your health care provider to discuss your condition and how to best manage it.

Where can I learn more about seasonal depression and holiday depression?

In Canada visit

In the USA visit the Anxiety and Depression Society of America

The UK has a great resource in the Seasonal Affective Disorder Support Group

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