A young woman stands in her house, looking at the snowfall. She is feeling the holiday blues this winter.

7 Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues This Winter

Updated: December 5, 2023

7 min.

If you feel more lonely or sad during the holidays, you’re not alone, and these tips are for you.

By: Ashley Laderer

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

Despite what the holiday songs and movies may try to tell us, the winter holiday season is not always holly and jolly. Between the lack of daylight hours, family drama, financial stressors, and other unrealistic expectations, it’s no wonder so many people feel blue around the holidays. In fact, studies show more than half of Americans feel loneliness or sadness during the holidays. Plus, the season can be particularly difficult for those with pre-existing mental health conditions, 64% of whom report worsened symptoms during the holidays. To make this time of year a bit more manageable, we’ve compiled a list of seven tips for beating the holiday blues and taking care of your mental health during the wintertime

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1. Feel your feelings

There’s so much pressure around the holiday season to have a good time and be merry. But putting on a happy face when you aren’t feeling it can be exhausting, so try to let some of that pressure go. Allow yourself to feel emotions other than happiness, and don’t beat yourself up for doing so—you don’t have to feel guilty for not feeling happy, even if it seems like people around you are. Whether you’re feeling stress, depression, anxiety, or guilt, your feelings are valid, and it’s okay to not feel okay, even around the holidays. 

Practice self-compassion by noticing your true feelings, and pat yourself on the back for doing your best. Also, if you’re struggling to make sense of your feelings, consider journaling as a way to externalize your emotions (it can be easier to make sense of what you’re feeling when it’s written down in front of you).

2. Lean on loved ones

There’s often a lot of emphasis on family time surrounding the holidays, but the reality is that many people don’t have the best relationships with their families. In fact, holiday dinners and parties can be a major source of stress, whether you’re nervous about your family’s opposing political views or your grandparents asking you why you’re still single. 

Now is a time to lean on your loved ones who you feel like you can truly confide in and be yourself around—and that doesn’t necessarily have to be your relatives. Your chosen family, your closest friends akin to family, are there for you. Use this social support to vent to them about your holiday blues and any mental health struggles, such as depression, that you might be facing. When you open up, it makes other people feel comfortable to do so, too. You may find yourself surprised to see how many other people are also experiencing the holiday blues. Let your friends know that you’re there for them, too.

3. Practice self-care

Self-care is crucial for mental health year-round, but it can be especially helpful when you’re coping with holiday stress. Self-care looks different for everyone. Play around with some different self-care methods and see what works best for relieving your stress. Some self-care ideas to improve your mental health this holiday season are:

  • Practicing mindfulness, like meditating
  • Working on positive self-talk
  • Making art or doing something creative
  • Adding cozy touches to your home
  • Making a plan with loved ones
  • Asking for help when you need it

4. Don’t neglect your physical health

Research shows our physical and mental health are linked, meaning that taking care of yourself physically can help improve your mental well-being. Here are some tips for taking care of your physical health during the holidays to keep the holiday blues at bay.

Stay active

Exercise is scientifically proven to boost your mood, helping to reduce anxiety and depression while also improving self-esteem. Yes, it can be hard to muster the motivation to work out, but you’ll feel better once you do, especially once you get yourself into a routine. Try to get in at least 20 minutes a day for the best results. If you can’t face the cold and leave your house, there are plenty of online home workouts you can do. For bonus points, enlist a friend as an accountability buddy so you can keep each other motivated.

Get enough high-quality sleep

There’s ample evidence showing how being sleep-deprived can worsen mental health. Teenagers should get eight to 10 hours of sleep, and adults over 18 should get at least seven hours, according to experts. If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to try to improve your sleep hygiene by keeping a consistent bedtime, limiting phone and computer use close to bedtime, and avoiding caffeine later in the day. 

Moderate substance use

It can be very tempting, especially during the holiday season, to turn to alcohol or other drugs to “take the edge off” or cope with the difficulties you’re facing. However, research consistently shows that excessive substance use can worsen existing mental health conditions and lead to substance use disorder in some instances. Keep substances to a minimum, and consider seeking mental health support if you notice yourself using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Get some vitamin D

Since you likely aren’t spending as much time outside and there are fewer hours of daylight in the depths of winter, you might have lower levels of vitamin D, which can be associated with drops in mood. Make it a point to get some sunshine, even if it’s just a brisk walk outside. Talk to your doctor about whether taking vitamin D supplements could be right for you. 

5. Limit social media usage

They say comparison is the thief of joy, and social media certainly lends itself to many comparisons. Seeing posts of family gatherings or holiday parties may make you feel like you’re not doing enough to celebrate or exacerbate feelings of loneliness. And, it can be easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel—even if someone posts happy-looking photos, they could be feeling the holiday blues, too. If you compare yourself to others and feel lonely or less than when scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, you may want to cut back on social media use. You can choose to limit the amount of time you spend each day or take designated days of the week where you avoid it altogether. 

6. Set healthy boundaries

It isn’t always easy, but setting clear boundaries and learning to say “no” are crucial skills to help your mental health this holiday season. You may feel pressure from people in your life to do things you don’t want to, but it’s important to honor your limits. This could look like only attending a gathering for a certain amount of time or skipping one altogether. Also, you can set boundaries on topics of conversation, like body talk, politics, or other parts of your personal life. 

7. Know when it’s more than just the holiday blues

If your low mood has been an issue since before the holidays, and if it continues past the holidays, you may be dealing with winter seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a specific type of depression also known as seasonal depression. Common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling depressed most days
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing socially 
  • Thinking about suicide

If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, this is a mental health emergency, and you should contact The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. If you’re not in a mental health crisis but noticing other symptoms like the ones listed above, it’s still important to reach out for mental health support. SAD is a form of depression, but with the right help, it is treatable. Even if you don’t think you have SAD but the holiday blues are hitting you hard, working with a therapist is a great way to unpack what you’re feeling and learn to cope with challenging emotions.  

A young woman sits on the couch knowing that her mood is more than just the holiday blues.

How Charlie Health can help

If the holiday season is taking a toll on your mental health, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions, including seasonal depression and other mental health conditions that worsen during the wintertime. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based trauma therapy, like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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