Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

How to manage depression during the holidays


I don’t talk about my day job as a psychotherapist on this blog very often, for several reasons. Obviously, confidentiality is the biggest one. Secondly, my blog is generally the place I retreat to after a long day at work, so usually the last thing I want to talk about is more work. Plus, no one really wants to read about just how much paperwork I have to do. Bor-ing.

But I wouldn’t feel right carrying on with a bunch of jolly-holiday type posts without also addressing the fact that, for many people, the holiday season is not the most wonderful time of the year. For many, it is fraught with family tension, financial anxiety, unmet expectations, guilt, disappointment, loneliness and grief.  If you’re struggling with depression, Christmas carols can ring very hollow.


“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
–Charlie Brown


Many of my clients are surprised when I tell them that feeling depressed during the holidays is incredibly common, because the messages they absorb from television shows, movies and commercials have led them to believe that everyone really is dancing and prancing in jingle bell square. But the truth is, life is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Most families have problems and most people have experienced some form of loss. Many families aren’t able to afford a Christmas tree or the $300 gadgets their kids are asking for. The holidays can be an extremely stressful, lonely and painful time. If you’ve been feeling this way, please know you’re not alone in these feelings, and there are some things you can do to help manage them.



Here are some tips for managing depressive symptoms during the holiday season:

- Try to avoid getting swept up in the commercialism of the holiday.  I get very overwhelmed, and frankly, grossed out by the barrage of messages to consume, consume, consume during the holidays. There is beauty and meaning in simplicity. Some traditions, activities and shared experiences do not cost a dime, and they are far more valuable than expensive gadgets and toys.

-Don’t compare your family or your situation to others.  The grass is always greener, isn’t it? Don’t spend too much time thinking about the family across the street with their 20 guests at the table and the big pile of presents under the tree. Guess what–that family is dealing with their own issues too. They’re just different issues than yours.

-Keep your expectations in check.  You don’t have to knit homemade sweaters for your entire family. You don’t have to bring four different types of homemade pie. If it’s easier, just buy one from the grocery down the street. Do what you can, and let go of the rest. 

-Let yourself grieve.  If you feel sad, it’s okay to acknowledge it. You’re a human, and humans feel the full range of emotions, including sadness. You don’t have to force merriment. If you’re feeling the loss of family or friends, either by death or another type of separation, try incorporating them into your celebration in a meaningful way. Hang their favorite ornaments, watch holiday movies you used to enjoy together, use his or her recipe for pumpkin pie.

-Reach out to others.  Become more involved in your community, call supportive and understanding friends, go to your church or temple.

-Exercise.  Exercise relieves tension, is a natural mood-booster, and promotes a feeling of personal accomplishment. Even better- do it outside in the sunlight for a boost of Vitamin D.

-Make time for yourself.  If you become easily overwhelmed by too many social obligations, learn how to say no. Make sure you take time to participate in activities that bring you relaxation and calmness, whether it’s reading, getting a massage, taking a walk or doing something creative.

-Keep the drinking moderate.  It’s pretty easy to overindulge in booze around the holidays, but if you’re prone to depression it can easily leave you feeling worse. Over-eating can have the same effect.

-Volunteer.  Volunteering is a brilliant way to look outside of yourself and reach out to others. Volunteering is a distraction from negative thoughts and an excellent way to gain a more positive perspective on the season.




My intention in writing this post is not to shake the glitter off anyone’s holiday spirit. My intention is to reach out to those who aren’t feeling the spirit this year, and let them know they are not alone. If you know someone who has a hard time during the holidays, reach out.

Jenn P.

30-something psychotherapist. Loves cooking, hosting parties, exploring new places. Texan by birth. New Yorker by choice. Likes to tell little stories. Pull up a chair; I'll tell you one.

  • Meg
    Thanks for this post. Though the holidays can be lovely, they aren’t without some type of tension, stress or pain for most of us . . . emotional, financial, mental. I love your suggestion to volunteer: for the last few years, my sister and I have spent an evening distributing gifts and toys through a local holiday program for families in our community. We help them shop donations to find treasures for their kids, and it is hands-down the best part of the holiday season for us. It’s nothing to spend four hours there — and that feeling lingers with you long after the night is over! It also gives such great perspective on the capacity we have to love others and help others, and always makes me feel so good about mankind. The recipients are very grateful, but it’s much more than that . . . it’s a feeling that we can bring joy to others, even if we don’t always feel it ourselves.
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Great comment, Meg and I Iove that you and your sister do that every year as a tradition!
  • Maryn
    I wish I had a therapist like you ;) I’m sure I’ll need to refer to these tips sometime this month…
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      What a loving thing to say, Maryn. Thank you:)That’s
  • Shannon Kerns
    Amazing advice. I’m working on a “what to do at the holidays when you’re family is not who you want them to be” post myself. I’m not an expert though, just someone who’s been through a decade of therapy and has had enough distance from the “crazy” to cope with it. Thanks for your insight!
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      This is exactly why I posted this today, Shannon. SO many families struggle with these issues and they are definitely more pronounced at the holidays. Thanks for your comment, and best wishes for a calm holiday reunion:).
    • dawnmarie04
      Shannon, I just saw your comment and could relate. “Not who you want them to be” sums it up for me. I look forward to you hitting publish on that post you are working on. I think many of us simply are disappointed in family situations and making the best of them.
  • The Legal Shrimp
    I adored this post! Thank you for such realistic advice. We all can get into ruts even if it isn’t clinical depression and I think this is great guidance – especially not comparing yourself to others!
    • Jenn P.
      Thanks Shrimp (What a fun name:).
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Thanks Shrimp! (haha–love your name)
  • Decoybetty
    Since becoming an expat I find Christmas particularly bittersweet. First all, now that I’m in Australia it’s summer time and Christmas, but I always get incredibly homesick…this year my mother in law has been pushing me to get a christmas tree and I just don’t want all the festive-ness around my house…the less it feels like Christmas, the less homesick I am. Sadly I’m not sure she shares my views :)
    • Jenn P.
      I never saw it from that perspective before; must be strange to celebrate the holiday season during the summer season, especially if that’s not the way you celebrated in the past. Hope you find a way to make it all blend comfortably:)
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Never thought of that perspective–celebrating the holiday season during summer season. Hope you learn to adjust and have fun creating new traditions in different weather.
  • Ellie
    While I don’t feel extreme amounts of sadness or depression around the holidays, I, like everyone, have my own set of guilt or disappointment for not being able to give as much as I’d like as well as sadness I can’t go home for the holidays. But I remind myself that what I do have are friends and family who don’t care whether or not I give them a gift, friends of 20 years who live nearby to celebrate holidays with, and a the generous gifts I do receive–both material and the gifts of time. I agree that the commercialism and message of cheer and go, go, go are over the top and not altogether realistic. I wish the message was more of appreciation and the gifts of love, time, and “the thought that counts”. Thank you so much for sharing this post, Jenn. It was a good reminder of what’s important and I think will help a lot of people :)
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Thank you for your comment, Ellie. Guilt is a BIG one for me, especially about not always going to Texas to be with family. And the commercial messages are what create all these unrealistic expectations and stress for people. Not a fan of those!
  • dawnmarie04
    Thank you for this very timely post. I had a wonderful childhood and a wonderfully close family. Over the years the dynamics and people have changed. I am sure it was a gradual process but I am suddenly realizing this is not the family I grew up with. And not one, if entering the family now, would want. I am extremely close to my Mom and have decided to create traditions with her and I. Such as a girls day, shopping day etc. This way when I only show up at the family function for a few hours it is not making me feel like I lost time with my Mom at the holidays. I was wondering if we could do Skype therapy as I really could use you. That is a joke but I am totally serious :)
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Ah, families. We’ve all got something going on, don’t we? Whatever tension already exists seems to be magnified at the holidays. Flattered that you’d want to do Skype therapy with me, Dawn! Unfortunately I share too much of my private life here to ever enter a therapeutic relationship with a reader. But thank you for the sweet comment:). I could help you with a referral in your area if you’d like.
  • ME
    Hi Jenn,
    Thank you for writing this. You never cease to amaze me.
    BPD ME