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The holiday season brings up a host of emotions for everyone. This time of year, the “holiday blues” creep up on a significant portion of the population. Some people can’t wait for what the holidays mean – snow, cold weather, Christmas, presents, family, food. For others, the holidays are just reminders of what hasn’t gone right in years past. It seems as if December and January bring up more depression than any other months!

My friend Stan* is experiencing holiday depression for the first time this year. I asked him what specifically is making this year harder for him, and he said this:

This will be the first holiday season where I don’t have a home to call my own. I got divorced back in April and I had to leave my house where my ex wife and two children (3 and 1 year old) live. It’s been rough only seeing them on certain hours on certain days, and now, with the time of year that’s meant to be spent with family, I am an outsider and have never felt more alone.

Stan is not alone. This type of loneliness is common amongst so many young adults. They don’t have a significant other, family nearby, or anyone they can depend on. OR, they dread those holiday parties and feel lonely even in a room full of people. The depression and loneliness could also lead to anxiety, so they may feel lonely and depressed and have invitations out, but too much stress and anxiety to actually go anywhere, thus contributing to their negative feelings.

Loneliness triggers some negative coping skills that, in turn, hinder our social functioning. Those who see this time of year as negative tend to socially isolate themselves and engage in any activity that will greatly reduce their chance of being rejected. This isolation creates a pessimistic and defeatist outlook on life, further perpetuating their belief that this time of year sucks and adding to the cycle of “I have no one to be with” and “I don’t want to be with anyone.”

It’s important not to give in to this depression, though. For some, they are able to get over the depression shortly after the holidays pass, but for others, they only fall further into the spiral of depression until they’re able to realize they need help.

Here’s what you can to do prevent sliding down the depression hole:

  1. Take care of yourself. As I mention in other blogs, you can only be 100% YOU if you’re taking care of yourself. Whether that means buying yourself a present, going to the spa, exercising, indulging in a $5 coffee, whatever it might be – make sure you are taking care of yourself and doing things that bring you joy.
  2. Realize you are NOT alone! If you hate the holidays, chances are you know someone else already who hates the holidays, too. Connect with them. Go bowling. Do something not holiday related! If you’re lonely because you want to be with family, but can’t be, reach out to friends or friends of friends or a religious center or volunteer somewhere. Connect with those who also want connection. Here’s a Huffington Post article that lists ways you can volunteer this holiday season.
  1. Fake it ‘til you make it. Yes, fake happiness. Why? Because youre engaging in what you want to be until it actually becomes so. Faking it is a placebo effect. You know the placebo effect – take a sugar pill that you’re told is a pain killer and, BOOM, pain is gone. Faking it creates a placebo effect in your brain. Tell yourself you’re happy and, slowly but surely, you will be happy.

What did I tell my friend Stan when he shared his loneliness with me? Well, I insisted he come over. He knows he’s always welcome at my home and, knowing now that he feels so lonely not being able to be with his family as much as he wants to be, I’m going to be making more of an effort to have him over and make sure he isn’t feeling super lonely. Guess what? No one wants to see their friends lonely and sad. By reaching out even when you don’t want to, you will see that those who love you want you to be happy. And, when all else fails, go hang out with some kids. Kids see the good in everything and will almost always give you something to be happy about.

*Names changed to protect confidentiality.

Copyright © 2017 Michelle Dabach, LMFT. All Rights Reserved