The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy–which is why anyone dealing with depression during this festive time may feel isolated.

This week, just as the holidays for 2020 roll in, I’ll tell you what you need to know about why you may feel depressed during the holidays and how depression and sleep are related. 

Is Feeling Depressed During the Holidays Normal?

I love the holidays, and even a year of social distancing and changed plans, there’s little that brings me as much joy than decorating and reconnecting with loved ones. But that doesn’t mean I and others don’t sometimes feel depressed. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as many as 40 percent of Americans already struggling with mental health report that the holidays make their mental health worse. 

Most Common Causes of Holiday Depression- And How They Impact Sleep

There are countless reasons why you or a loved one is feeling depressed during the holidays. To make it worse, winter is also the prime time for sleep disorders. You can read on my blog about how sleep disorders and depression are linked

It’s All in the Family

Family can be wonderful, but also a source of anxiety and stress. Interpersonal conflicts or unmet expectations can drain your energy and mental health. From triggering bad memories, overstepping boundaries, or trying to recreate the joy of holidays past, feeling depressed may occur when things don’t seem as ‘perfect’ as they should be. 

And it’s especially problematic when that conflict is with a romantic partner. Researchers have discovered that high levels of interpersonal stress are associated with increased symptoms of insomnia and more nighttime awakenings.

Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise

Lack of exercise and loading up too much on high sugar foods can drain our physical and emotional health. Between holiday feasts, baking and crammed schedules, it’s all too easy to ditch a regular exercise routine and healthy eating habits. 

And when our bodies aren’t getting the exercise and nourishment they need, we’re more likely to experience sleep disturbances and depression. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective disorder is a depression that occurs in response to the change in daylight hours, typically starting mid to late fall and lasting through winter. You or a loved one may experience loss of interest in things that once brought you joy, like decorating or baking during the holidays, as well as trouble concentrating and feeling hopeless. 

In fact, seasonal affective disorder is one of the leading causes of insomnia during winter. At the height of the holidays, circadian rhythms are more likely to become disrupted. Shorter daylight hours impacts our production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. 

How to Manage Depression During the Holidays

The good news is there are ways to help you or someone who’s feeling depressed during the holidays and even sleep better, with just a few tweaks to a daily routine. Here’s what I recommend. 

Set Realistic Expectations

While it’s a good idea any year, this holiday season especially is time to set healthy expectations, whether that’s to do with holiday gifts, meals, or just connecting. Instead of comparing 2020 to past holidays, celebrate the ability to still partake in holidays during a difficult year, and scale back if you need to.

Prioritize Sleep

Sleeping for those with depression can be difficult, which is why I recommend starting with a sleep aid during the holiday season. By trying a non-habit forming sleep supplement, and scheduling sleep, though, it’s not just your physical body that’ll feel better. 

In fact, some experts believe sleep is essential to depression treatment, with research suggesting that better sleep can even improve the effectiveness of other conventional depression treatment. 

Plan Morning Walks

You don’t have to be an athlete to keep an exercise routine. Take a walk with a friend or loved one in the morning before you start your day. Not only will you get some social time and your blood moving; you’ll also get much needed exposure to sunlight, which plays a key role in regulating sleep and wake cycles. 

Eat Serotonin Rich Food

While conventional advice will tell you to make sure you get in your greens, healthy fats and lean protein, there’s also another fix for feeling depressed during the holidays. Serotonin does two things: it acts as a mood stabilizer and works with other hormones to regulate sleep. 

You can get your daily dose from eggs, cheese, tofu, fatty fish, and even roasted turkey. 

Use Social Media Wisely

For anyone suffering from depression during the holidays it is important to be mindful of social media, Using social media too much can lead us to be more likely to compare our holidays, bodies, or lives with others. 

And too much social media at night can expose us to blue light and disrupt our much needed sleep. So shut down the social media for a bit, but if you do need it to connect and you’re feeling lonely, make sure to wear blue light blocking glasses so you don’t disrupt your sleep. A better alternative is to listen to some soothing sounds that will help you fall asleep faster and to relax your mind more thoroughly. In full transparency, I do have a spokesperson relationship with Bose I regularly buy and give Bose Sleep Buds to my clients and friends.

My final piece of advice? Take depression seriously. While depression during the holidays is not unusual, persistent feelings of hopelessness need attention. Seek out a professional and remember there is no shame in asking for help, and no such thing as the perfect way to feel during the holidays.