Christmas Depression: When Christmas Doesn't Bring Happiness

Feeling lonely, sad, nostalgic, or irritable are some of the symptoms of what's commonly known as Christmas depression. Learn more.
Christmas Depression: When Christmas Doesn't Bring Happiness
Andrea Pérez

Written and verified by the psychologist Andrea Pérez.

Last update: 14 December, 2023

The holidays have finally arrived! The streets have already been filled with lights and decorations adorn every corner, every shop window, and every window. A festive air flies over the atmosphere. Special menus begin to come together. The rolls of wrapping paper are beginning to run out. It’s such a special time of year, you feel that you have to enjoy it! However, for many, they’re dates loaded with nostalgia, loneliness, and negative feelings. Keep reading to learn more about Christmas depression.

Christmas has always been surrounded by a halo of happiness and illusion. Bonds such as family, love, or reuniting with old friends are exalted. But not everyone lives these dates with the same joy. According to reports, up to 65% of people may experience stress, anxiety, or depressive symptoms during these dates, a phenomenon known as Christmas depression. Despite the name, it’s not a mental disorder but refers to normal emotions within a context that reminds us of painful realities we may be experiencing or that we experienced in the past.

Often labeled as the Grinch, there are many people who, during this season, experience more negative feelings than positive ones. Melancholy, lack of interest, apathy, anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed, or being in a bad mood are some of the companions that we can find at this time of year.

A man with his head in his hands, sitting near a Christmas tree.

Why does Christmas depression happen?

You may simply be a person who has never liked these dates, which is totally legitimate. However, there are a series of factors that can be the starting point for that so-called Christmas depression to emerge and condition us this part of the year.

The loss of a loved one is another reason why Christmas is often tinged with nostalgia. It’s what’s known as empty chair syndrome. When a loved one has left us, mourning can be accentuated on certain dates in which the absence of that person becomes more difficult to ignore, making the holidays difficult to endure.

Having family conflicts can change our mood and make us more irritable and moody. And, according to tradition, the holiday is a season where we must gather around a table with our blood family. But these aren’t always secure ties with which we feel comfortable. Knowing that you’ll go through uncomfortable moments leads to frustration or anger. The management of these conflicts and emotions accentuates the discomfort of Christmas.

Many people report feeling more stressed and anxious during the Christmas season. These are dates when organization is needed. Buying gifts, distributing your time, deciding who you’ll spend each day with, planning the menus, decorating the house, traveling if you need to, or juggling money are tasks that are added to our usual routine. This overload and this alteration of the routine lead us to start the new year exhausted, and we’re far from fulfilling one of the purposes of the holidays: Rest.

Loneliness is the great Achilles heel of Christmas. They’re dates of a social nature, and there’s also a lot of pressure to spend them in company. Being alone and not having a circle to celebrate with makes us feel sad when we realize that the social network we want doesn’t line up with the one we have. This happens, above all, when our solitude isn’t something we’ve chosen, but is imposed. Many elderly individuals are an example of this situation.

A table set for Christmas.

How to avoid it?

There are many ways to deal with these emotions, but all the healthy ones involve accepting their existence. It’s important not to fight with your feelings and to normalize the sadness.  Sharing your emotional world with people you trust will make you feel supported and comforted.

Likewise, we can reconvert nostalgia by giving it a positive approach. Remembering, for example, good times spent with the person we’re missing. There’s no need to hide that empty chair–we can continue to make it a part of our celebration and incorporate it in a symbolic way.

Finding a balance between your own needs and those of others is recommended. Some situations may make us feel somewhat uncomfortable due to the expectations, confrontations, or demands that they may entail. Therefore, it’s important to find a distance in which this discomfort is manageable.

Like plants, there are relationships that, if you water them a lot, they can die of drowning, while, on the contrary, if you never water them, they can die of thirst. Realizing what needs that relationship has and what we need can guide us in this search for balance.

If we decide to adapt the routine to be able to fit all those actions that Christmas brings with it, we must measure the demands that we impose on ourselves. There’s no need for everything to be perfect, nor for us to take all the responsibilities upon ourselves. Lowering expectations and distributing tasks will be a good retaining wall for stress.

One possibility to help us live with these emotions is to try to create and seek spaces for self-care. For example, organizing a day focused on meeting needs, trying to share tasks with other people, and slowing down during these dates. Focusing on what’s valuable to you and managing to find those moments despite suffering won’t make the pain go away, but it can give it new meaning.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • García, L. M. Recuerdos, neurociencia y Navidad, parte II.
  • Herrera, R. R. (2007). La problemática de la soledad en los mayores. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology1(2), 11-27
  • Maldonado, E. D. (2012). El duelo y su proceso para superarlo. México DF: Asociación

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.