5 Ways to Cope With Seasonal Depression During the Holidays

Heightened pressure to socialize, combined with colder weather and darker days, can spell trouble for people with seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression.

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feeling the effects of seasonal depression
If you have seasonal depression, the shorter days and colder weather that accompany the holiday season may have you feeling gloomy rather than merry.Maria Ponomariova/Getty Images

For people with seasonal affective disorder?(SAD),?also known as seasonal depression, the December holidays don’t always feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

In fact, approximately 64 percent of people with a mental health condition like SAD say that their symptoms worsen during this festive season, according to a small survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you have seasonal depression, there are several reasons that the holidays may feel cumbersome rather than merry and bright for you. For most people with SAD, their symptoms ramp up in late fall or early winter — when the days are shorter and the weather is colder — and often don’t lift until springtime, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

And because social withdrawal is a common symptom of SAD, the condition can be difficult to cope with during the holiday season. “The holidays are a time for celebration and spending time with friends and family, but there is also a lot of pressure to plan and attend social gatherings,” says? Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, a New York City–based licensed clinical psychologist and a media adviser for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

What’s more, many people with SAD feel like they have little energy to go about their day, according to the Mayo Clinic. That can be especially difficult during the holidays, when people’s to-do lists tend to feel like they’re a mile long. “It can be challenging for those who experience seasonal depression, as they may not have energy, motivation, or interest during this time of the year,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa.

How to Keep Seasonal Depression in Check During the Holidays

If you have SAD, finding ways to manage it can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re already zapped of energy. Here are five ways to get started, according to experts.

1. Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional

If you feel like you need help, reach out to a mental health professional to assist you with managing your depressive symptoms. “Depression is common, SAD is real, and help is available,” says Stephen Hill, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Thriveworks Counseling and Psychiatry in Tallahassee, Florida.

A mental health professional can connect you with evidence-based treatments, such as psychotherapy (or talk therapy) ?and in some cases medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, according to? Mayo Clinic experts.

If you know your depression worsens during the winter holidays, consider reaching out for professional support beforehand, to make sure you have the help you need once the holiday season rolls around, says Dr. Hill.

2. Consider Light Therapy

Light therapy — which involves sitting in front of a bright-light box for 30 to 45 minutes each day to simulate additional sunlight during the darker winter months — has been used to treat SAD since the 1980s, according to experts at the National Institute of Mental Health. In fact, many experts consider it a first-line treatment option for SAD, according to a review published in 2017 in the Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine.

It’s important to note, however, that although they’re usually safe and effective, many bright-light boxes aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If you think bright-light therapy could be helpful for you, or if you need help finding a light box, ask your doctor or a mental health professional for recommendations.

3. Set Boundaries

Although you may be tempted to put your needs aside for the sake of showing up to holiday events, it may backfire and actually worsen your symptoms. If you need to RSVP “no” to an event during the holiday season because you’re not feeling up to it, that’s okay, says Lira de la Rosa.

“Listen to what you may need day-to-day and know that you are taking care of yourself by honoring what you need,” says Lira de la Rosa

4. Tell Loved Ones About What You’re Going Through

If you feel comfortable doing so, consider talking with trusted loved ones about why attending holiday parties while dealing with seasonal depression is challenging, suggests Lira de la Rosa. “Often, seeking out support from others can be very helpful and make you feel less alone,” he says.

You might find that some of your loved ones also struggle with depressive symptoms during the holidays, adds Lira de la Rosa.

5. Keep a Gratitude Journal

One way people with SAD can boost their emotional well-being is by keeping a gratitude journal. “Every morning, wake up and write down in sentence form five things that you are grateful for,” Hill suggests. “Practicing gratitude is an intervention in and of itself.

For example, you could write down, “Today, I am grateful for the family and friends I have in my life.”

Some research supports the beneficial effects of keeping a gratitude journal, including a small research article published in 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology , which found that keeping a gratitude journal and expressing gratitude to loved ones was associated with reduced depressive symptoms after a month.

RELATED: 14 Ways to Ease Seasonal Depression

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