Depression is a mood disorder that causes various symptoms, such as loss of pleasure, changes in appetite, and sleeping problems. Some people experience depression during the holiday season.

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Depression affects mood and other aspects of thinking, feeling, and behavior. Many people will experience some symptoms of depression in their daily life, but someone with the condition must show symptoms for at least 2 weeks for a clinical diagnosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 8% of American adults have depression at a given time, which is more common in women than men.

Depression can occur at any time, but some people experience symptoms around the holiday period of November and December. The holiday season could cause stress, loneliness, or both in some people, leading to depressive symptoms.

This article discusses the causes, symptoms, treatments, and management of holiday depression.

Depression is a complex condition without a single cause. Research suggests that a combination of factors causes depression:

  • genetic
  • environmental, including seasonal changes
  • psychological
  • biological factors

Holiday period causes

The festive period can be stressful for some people. For example, a person may feel stress from difficult relationships with family members or organizing events. A review in 2015 suggests that psychological stress contributes to the onset of depression.

Some people may experience loneliness during a festive period. For example, a person may experience loneliness from having less contact with family members or friends than others during the festive period.

A 2018 review of 88 studies included data from over 40,000 people with and without depression. The study found that loneliness had a moderate effect on increasing depressive symptoms. However, loneliness can also be a symptom of depression.

Some people might experience financial hardship during the holidays from having to pay for presents, travel, or other expenses. A 2022 review of 40 studies found an association between financial stress and a higher risk of depression.

Depression affects people differently. It can cause a range of symptoms that could be mild, moderate, or severe. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • low mood
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • irritability and restlessness
  • loss of pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • tiredness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • difficulty thinking
  • thinking about suicide or self-harm
  • aches and pains

People must experience these symptoms for at least 2 weeks to receive a diagnosis of depression. Holiday depression is not a formal diagnosis but refers to depression during the holiday period.

Some people might primarily experience these symptoms during the holiday period. However, others will experience these symptoms at other times of the year.

There are various treatments for depression that someone experiencing symptoms during the festive period might consider. They can include a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and relaxation techniques.


A doctor might prescribe antidepressants to people experiencing depressive symptoms. These are a type of medication that aim to reduce depressive symptoms, such as low mood. They can take 4–8 weeks before they start to work. Examples of antidepressants include fluoxetine and duloxetine.


Psychotherapy is another common treatment for depression. There are many types of psychotherapy, which typically involve deep discussions about various issues and behavioral exercises.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of psychotherapy that involves identifying and modifying thought and behavior patterns that could be contributing to depressive symptoms. It is the most common type of psychotherapy for depression, but other forms of therapy include:

  • psychoanalysis
  • counseling
  • guided self-help
  • behavioral activation
  • family therapy
  • couples therapy
  • interpersonal therapy
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

Methods for dealing with loneliness

People experiencing holiday depression may benefit from focusing on specific triggers causing the symptoms.

For example, people experiencing loneliness during the holiday season might benefit from specifically addressing that. The National Institute for Aging suggests combatting loneliness with several methods, including:

  • taking up a hobby, such as art classes
  • schedule time each day to interact with family and friends
  • using technology to keep in touch with people, such as video chats
  • getting a pet
  • exercising in a group
  • introducing oneself to neighbors
  • joining community projects and activities

Stress-reduction techniques

People who experience stress during the holiday period may benefit from stress-reduction techniques. Various techniques exist for short and long-term stress relief.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests some ways of reducing stress that include:

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America gives several tips for managing depression, including:

  • getting active with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day
  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • getting enough sleep
  • keeping a journal
  • challenging negative thoughts or feelings
  • limiting overthinking
  • setting realistic goals
  • reducing procrastination
  • avoiding making major life decisions
  • staying connected to others
  • practicing self-compassion

Some of these tips may be particularly relevant during the holiday period. For example, staying connected will be important for anyone at risk of loneliness over the holidays.

Some people may experience depressive symptoms during the holidays, such as low mood, hopelessness, and sleep problems. These symptoms could be due to holiday triggers, such as stress or loneliness.

Anyone experiencing holiday depression might receive treatments, such as medications or psychotherapy. They might also benefit from addressing the specific triggers during the holiday period. For example, someone could practice mindfulness to tackle stress during the holidays.