12 Ways to Avoid Depression This Holiday Season

Blog-12 Ways to Avoid Depression This Holiday Season

Many people believe that the holidays are the “most wonderful time of the year.” But for others, the holiday season is a time of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. The holiday blues are real. And they have an especially strong effect on people with mental health conditions. In fact, 64% of people with a diagnosed mental health condition say the holidays make their symptoms worse, according to a survey by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. In this survey, 75% of respondents admitted that the holiday season contributes to feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction.

With shorter days and longer lines, it’s no wonder people are more likely to struggle with low moods during the winter months. The holidays seem to be filled with unrealistic expectations and unforeseen pressures that can cause mood and sleep dysregulation. The holidays can also be particularly painful if you’ve lost a loved one. Grief over the death of a spouse or other close family member tends to hit hardest during the holiday season. Unaddressed, these forces have the power to steal your joy, sabotage your health, and trigger unproductive behaviors, which can absolutely ruin your holiday.

But with some easy-to-implement strategies, it’s possible to overcome the holiday blues and keep depressive symptoms under control. To help you put a smile on your face this season, follow these mood-boosting, stress-busting tips.

12 Ways to Fend Off the Holiday Blues

1. Talk It Out

Many people aren’t comfortable talking about their feelings. However, opening up about personal struggles can have big benefits for those who deal with depression. Let friends and family know when you’re emotionally overwhelmed. And if you don’t have family or live too far away to connect with them, seek out a support group or see a therapist. Talking it out can help reduce your sense of isolation and provide relief from your symptoms. Seek professional help if necessary, but don’t fight your battles on your own.

2. Take A Time Out

Almost 50% of all American women experience increased stress during the holidays, according to the American Psychological Association. And this leads to some unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as eating or drinking alcohol. It’s important to find better ways to deal with the added stress. For example, spending just 15 minutes a day by yourself—without distractions—may refresh your thoughts. Find something that reduces stress, clears your mind, slows your breathing, and restores inner calm. Repeating simple words like “May I be safe and secure” can increase positive emotions and decrease negative ones. Research has shown that such Loving Kindness Meditations (LKM) can minimize pain, migraine headaches, and the symptoms of PTSD.

3. Just Say No

Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and frustrated. Colleagues and friends will understand if you can’t participate in every project or social gathering. The holidays can make people feel out of control and at the mercy of traditions or expectations. But you can take control of the holidays by refusing to let them control you. Say no to events and activities that aren’t making you happy or are causing holiday stress.

4. Reach Out

Though isolating yourself during tough times may feel like the safest option, closing yourself off from the world can further aggravate your problems. Resist the urge to shut out the individuals who can offer you encouragement and support—friends, family, and trusted community or religious leaders. Spending time in a positive community of like-minded people is a wonderful way to boost your bliss hormones, such as oxytocin.

5. Stick To Your Plan

Don’t abandon your daily healthy habits. Refuse to let the holidays become an excuse to put your diet on hold until the New Year. This kind of binge mentality has contributed to a 37% increased risk for a heart attack on Christmas Eve, according to research in the British Medical Journal. Though it’s common to have that second helping of stuffing or an extra slice of pie during the holidays, don’t lose sight of your nutrition plan. Your heart and life may depend on it.

6. Bring A Healthy Snack

To avoid overeating at holiday parties, bring a few healthy snacks with you. Emergency rations can be a lifesaver in the case of cravings brought on by low blood sugar. Brain healthy snacks include sugar-free dried fruits (blueberries or goji berries), raw vegetables (baby carrots, celery, or snap peas), nuts (almonds or walnuts). These good-for-you foods contain bliss-enhancing nutrients, which can elevate your mood and help stave off hunger until your next healthy meal.

7. Get Quality Sleep

There’s a strong correlation between sleep disturbances and depression. Research shows that about 75% of people with depression also have insomnia. And the association goes both ways. During the hectic holiday season, many people skimp on sleep, which can lead to increased irritability and moodiness. To enhance your moods, make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

8. Take It Outside

Instead of wasting the holidays watching marathons on TV or playing video games, get the whole family outside for brain safe activities, like a long, brisk walk. Walking can help you clear your mind, decrease anxiety, improve your mood and burn some calories all at the same time. Physical activity accelerates blood flow to all parts of the body, including the brain, and research shows that exercise is an effective antidepressant. It’s recommended to get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise daily.

9. Practice Gratitude

Did you know that practicing gratitude can make your brain work better? Research has demonstrated that people who express gratitude on a regular basis are healthier, more optimistic, make more progress toward their goals, have a greater sense of well-being, and are more helpful to others. Focusing on the things you’re thankful for helps to calm the deep limbic or emotional areas of your brain. Write down three things that you’re grateful for every day. Then experience the joy that gratitude can bring.

10. Relaxing Music

There are a variety of relaxation methods, including meditating, diaphragmatic breathing, and listening to brain-enhancing music. Remaining in a blissful state of mind is easier to accomplish when you have a happy tune running through your head. Listen to brain enhancing music specifically composed to enhance mood, memory, focus, motivation, and inspiration.

11. Learn To Laugh

When all else fails, laugh. Laughing releases stress-reducing endorphins into your bloodstream. Scientific evidence shows that laughter truly is the best medicine and can work wonders in relieving anxiety and depression. Enjoying humor enhances the brain’s pleasure centers without wearing them out. Having fun and laughing are some of the best ways to lower stress and release feel-good neurotransmitters.

12. Take A Look

Knowing how your brain works is critical to getting the help you need. One of the keys to overcoming depression is to know which type you have. Brain imaging studies have shown that there are 7 types of depression, and each type requires a different treatment plan. Brain SPECT imaging can help identify your type so you can get the most effective treatment. 

If you need help overcoming the holiday blues or more serious depression, Amen Clinics can help. We use brain SPECT imaging to more accurately diagnose and treat the 7 types of depression and we also look at the other biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that may be contributing to your symptoms.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health and overcome their symptoms at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. Thank you for sharing the great information Dr.Amen!

    Comment by Adelita Servin — December 9, 2017 @ 2:08 PM

  2. Recently lost my dearest mother on July 6th, 2017. This is my first holiday season without my younger brother, father, mother. My son lives in Calif. – my sister lives in Michigan. I live alone and have no car or public transportation. So, I did do some Christmas decorating in this apt. Everything I read in this article was very helpful. Thank you for sharing these survival skills. Sincerely.

    Comment by Christine A. VanDerWyk — December 22, 2017 @ 2:54 AM

  3. I have always watched your pbs shows and just received your change your brain…book. Anxiety and depression try to rule my life. Im looking forward to reading your book and using the info to help. Thank you:

    Comment by Patricia. Feuerstein — December 23, 2017 @ 4:32 AM

  4. I have a difficult time around the holidays. Both of my grandparents died, although a few years apart around this time of year. I also feel that a lot of people act a certain way this time of year but the rest of the year the complete opposite, and may treat you as if you’re invisible. I dont like being around what I feel are phony people with plastic smiles that “act” like they care. How hard is it to pick up the phone, and ask how you are feeling? This is the first year I feel completly blah about Christmas. My meds I’m taking are Gabapentin 100mg 3 times (Migraine)/ day, Diovan 160mg once / day, (Blood pressure) don’t current have but high blood pressure does run in my family. Atorvastatin 20mg once / day (Cholesterol) the same the prior . Could these meds possibly be causing my mood changes? Thank you for your help!

    Comment by Julie — December 23, 2017 @ 5:12 AM

  5. Excellent article- great reminders on having a better day. Thank you Amen Clinics!

    Comment by Connie Jackson — December 24, 2017 @ 11:17 AM

  6. thank you for your advice but without getting help, there is nothing that can help me get through each day

    Comment by michelle bollhorst — December 25, 2017 @ 2:40 PM

  7. Dr amen Appreciate your help
    Your emails are the only ones worth opening
    If there is anyway I could ever get a free SPECT scan let me no I could get to your clinic in Georgia
    , Tim Cyr

    Comment by Tim — December 28, 2017 @ 3:41 PM

  8. Whats the issue with case stusdies being so dry and obviously planned out when people have engine room chest pain and obviously need benzodiazepine treatment along with adderal for add….. Buperenorphin treatment never should negate treatment for panic and adhd out of dogmatism

    Comment by Michael Alderson — December 18, 2018 @ 4:16 AM

  9. I left my grown children to let them have Christmas there own way . I am a caring mother , grandmother, sister, aunt, niece , friend . I had a hard weeks of Nov 26th 2018 to Dec 20th 2018. I needed to think and rest.
    seeing mom and dad Stobbe and siblings to stay FAMILY STRONG for my grandson nicholas..thank you
    Prayers for my grandson Nicholas

    Comment by Qwelot — December 29, 2018 @ 4:13 PM

  10. I agree with the fact that acceptance is the key. I suffered from holiday blues when i was abroad studying. I read up on the matter and came across a blog a E Care Behavioral Health Institute that said that people suffering from holiday blue should rely on healthy activities to get through the tough times instead of relying on alcohol.

    Comment by Vincent L Taylor — January 8, 2020 @ 3:09 AM

  11. I felt blah about Christmas last Monday and Tuesday. I prayed. Then I remembered Dec 6th is my wedding anniversary. I felt better for Dec 7th til today. I went out in 12th for lunch with my son.
    The expenses get to me. He gives back to work Jan 1st week. We have money for food only. We don't do gifts anymore.

    My husband separated from me when he got cancer. People told me that happens! It didnt help me. He came home after surgery. They got most of cancer but doctor told me new polyps are forming all the time. They let me make the decision to operate. My husband his family his doctor. But I'm so UNIMPORTANT.
    He could go with his wealthy daughter because she has the money for what he needed. He stroked out during surgery. My husband was 100
    Percent before he went to hospital. He came home 50 percent. We fell apart. He stayed home 6 weeks only. I let him go with his wealthy daughter and millionaire son in law. They put him in a nursing home.

    No more husband. No more family. No more home life. No more salary. No more comfort or financial security. No more high school football games with our son. No more father. No more married woman. Just me and my son. My daughter was gone too. 1 year moved out of our home.

    What hurt me the most was others expectations.
    Let it go. Move forward. So few friends and family would let me talk. I had to go to a counselor. The grief was too much. I had to work. All the bills were all mine now. One parent left. He was still alive 9 more years. No help to me anymore. He just dropped out of sight. I took our son to his nursing home to see him. It took me 6 months to find him. My husband signed the house to me in promise to not go after his daughter.

    Where is my husband? Where did he go? He just disappeared. My attorney said he's still responsible for us and the mortgage payment.
    I took all the responsibility.

    Nobody can calm me down. Nobody has the right answer for me. I'm fine all year long. It all happened on Christmas. And he died nine years later on Christmas Eve. Police came to tell me.

    We had 1 dinner out for Father's Day two years after we separated. But he never spoke to me as my husband again. I was not his wife anymore.
    Just a person he forgot. 19 years. But everyone expected me to forget all about our old life together. I have a big problem with them all!
    I hate all of them for how they shunned us after
    We separated. After Mom died. After my husband died. I stopped visiting Dad. He forgot us too. Alzheimer's. Everything just stopped.

    Thank you. I don't want a brain scan. Thank you for letting me write. I feel better now. I'm grateful for God. Me. My son. My daughter. My cat. And our home only. No more family. They still shun us. I travelled 21 trips in 29 yrs to see my family. But wasn't important after Mom died 2001. Dad died 2017. My sister robbed Dad's trust if 177,000.00. She gave us very little.
    Thank you Dr Amen. I'm tired of Christmas. I'm one parent with 2 kids. Too much stress.

    Comment by Donna M Hopcraft — December 17, 2022 @ 7:48 AM

  12. I want to change my brain!! Looking forward to learning more. I want to order your book!

    Comment by Doree Naegele — December 28, 2022 @ 10:26 AM

  13. excellent information!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 28, 2023 @ 3:46 PM

  14. excellent article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 30, 2023 @ 4:15 PM

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