Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, right? So why does the depression rate soar at this time of celebration? If the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past, tune into the some of the tools below to combat holiday depression this season.

Tools to Combat Holiday Depression

1. Know the triggers. First and foremost, recognizing what triggers your depression symptoms is a powerful way to combat holiday depression. As with most everything in life, the first step to change is awareness. When you recognize your depression triggers, you can defuse their power. In other words, your knowledge is power.

  • Finances. With the added expenses of gifts, travel, food and entertainment, the holidays can stress your budget as well as your peace of mind. Stress has been shown to trigger depression symptoms.
  • Relationships. Facing the holidays without a loved one can be tough and leave you feeling lonely and sad. On the opposite front, the stress of being with family members where there is strain in the relationship can trigger depression symptoms.
  • Irregular Schedule. The extra socializing and shopping can disrupt your usual schedule. When exercise, sleep and regular meals take a back seat, depression symptoms are typically triggered.

2. Acknowledge how you feel. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. Take time to cry and express your feelings. If you feel tension with a family member, talk to them about it--or if this feels too daunting--write about how you feel in a journal.

3. Stay connected. If you feel lonely, seek out social, religious or community events to make personal connections. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your mood and establish new friendships. Companionship is a fantastic way to combat holiday depression.

4. Keep a routine. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. An inconsistent eating and sleep schedule can lead to a lot of ups and downs. Studies have shown that keeping a consistent schedule can reduce minor mood swings that often lead to more severe episodes of depression. Stick to a regular sleep and wake time (as best you can), and eat your meals on a consistent schedule.

5. Skip overindulging this year. Most of us overindulge during the holidays. It seems like par for the holiday course. However, if you are serious about combating holiday depression, moderation can be your best friend. Overindulging on sweets and alcohol is a sure-fire way to trigger depression symptoms. Have a healthy snack before heading out to a holiday party so that you don't go overboard on sweets or alcohol.

6. Eat balanced, healthy meals. This may sound like a real challenge for the holiday season when there seems to be a party every other night, and a zillion tasks on your to-do list. However, you should know that a spike or drop in your blood sugar during the day can drastically change your mood (for the worse). Studies show that eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish and lean meats (and reducing your intake of simple carbohydrates and caffeine) can cut your risk of depression.

7. Get some exercise. When you exercise, you release endorphins (otherwise known as the body's "feel-good" chemicals). For some people, exercise works better than antidepressants to combat holiday depression.  Studies have shown that doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day, for three to five days a week, can significantly improve depression symptoms.

8. Take a yoga class. Let's face it--the holidays can be stressful! And research shows that stress and anxiety can increase depression symptoms. Yoga, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce stress and help improve your mood. If you've never done yoga before, try out a gentle or beginner yoga class and learn how to relax your mind and body for a more peaceful and potentially more joyful holiday.

9. Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend - and then stick to your budget. Overspending can lead to guilt, stress and feeling out of control which ultimately can trigger depression symptoms.

10. Say 'no' when you feel overwhelmed. Saying 'yes' when you should say 'no' can leave you feeling resentful, overwhelmed and stressed. Take care of yourself first. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every activity or event.

Final Tool (and maybe the most important):

Get sufficient sleep. Studies show that too little sleep can have a considerable influence on your mood. To combat holiday depression, make the quality and quantity of your sleep a priority. Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Research suggests that most adults need between seven and nine hours each night.

Instead of just surviving the holidays--by using these suggested tools to combat holiday depression--you may find yourself actually enjoying the holidays this year! If however you feel that your depression symptoms are severe and not improving, contact your doctor. Depression carries the risk of suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, seek help from your doctor immediately.


Coping during this holiday season. Mental Health America (formerly National Mental Health Association). Accessed Dec. 2, 2009.

Depression Slideshow: Tips for Exercise, Diet and Stress Reduction. Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD. WebMD. January 14, 2009. Accessed Dec. 2, 2009.

Holiday depression and stress. Mental Health America (formerly National Mental Health Association). Accessed Dec. 2, 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress, depression and the holidays: 10 tips for coping. Accessed Dec. 2, 2009.

Melin, G.J. Depression and Diet: Make Healthy Choices. Mayo Clinic. October 27, 2009. Website: