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Managing Sadness, Anxiety, and Depression over the Holidays

Posted By Lindsay Born, Monday, December 3, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Holidays are often associated with the happiest time of the year, but for some people it is also a difficult time. Some people are worried about time, family, and money or may feel isolated, especially if they recently lost a loved one. Below is a graph from the American Psychological Association showing the leading holiday stressors.

Leading Holiday Stress from American Psychological Association

What are ways we can help others or ourselves manage this stress?

Help those around you. Spend time with someone who needs it. An inexpensive way to make a huge difference in someone else’s holiday is to invite someone who may not have family into yours. For example, many years ago, a sweet woman named Edith began coming to our family holidays. She’s an elderly woman who emigrated from Hungary and has no family. Every year, she is delighted to see the children at our holidays and to have people to cook for.

Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect. They should be enjoyable. Not every single holiday and activity may fit in over the span of a week; there will be a next year, families grow and change, and traditions can change too. Choose which traditions to hang on to and what new traditions to begin.

If you feel isolated, reach out. Try getting involved in a community or religious organization or plan or participate in social events. Volunteering is always a great idea during the holiday season to give back to others. See if a local soup kitchens, fun run, or animal shelter is in need of volunteers.

Holidays are often associated with the happiest time of the year, but for some people it is also a difficult time.

Know that it is okay to not feel the holiday joy or spirit all the time. During the holidays, you are still human and can feel any emotions. Especially if a loved one isn’t there, know it is normal to feel sadness or grief. This can be a good time to start a new or different tradition to have a fresh start.

Save your shopping! Make gift-giving an experience rather than an item. Kids may already have a hundred toys, and teens or significant others can be difficult to shop for. Try getting them something they can do rather than own. This helps make memories! Some examples include tickets or gift cards to a movie, zoo, ski hill, amusement park, show, museum, mini vacation, or other local experience. Classes or lessons for dancing, yoga, instruments, singing, languages, and sports or donating to a charity in the other person’s name are also great ideas.

Budget your money and time. Both of these are valuable resources to keep track of, so plan ahead! Some alternatives are homemade gifts or a family gift exchange. Baked goods are affordable homemade gifts for someone with not a lot of space such as a college student, military personnel, or the elderly. As a college student, I would love is someone made me lasagna! I wouldn’t have to cook for a week! To keep track of your time, list what is important, learn to say no, and plan time for relaxation. Watch out for “FOMO”: the fear of missing out. You can’t do everything!

Save your guilt. Keep your healthy habits continuing into the New Year. Sugar and alcohol are plentiful at this time of year, so make sure to eat nutrient dense foods and to consume the unhealthy ones in moderation. 

Travel safely and wash your hands. Being sick or injured over the holidays is no fun! Prevent this by handling and preparing food safely, using your seatbelt, getting a flu vaccine, and using a designated driver if under the influence. Also, keep an eye on your kids during the hustle and bustle of family gatherings. Beware of choking hazards like coins and hard candy.

For airports and long car rides, make a list and check it twice! Plan to bring reusable water bottles (empty through airport security) and refill them as you travel to save money. Pack plenty of healthy snacks in a backpack or other carryon as well. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. If you have kids, consider a small early gift for them to open that will entertain them when they get bored. This could be snacks, a book, a blanket, etc.

Six Dimensions of Wellness

Lastly, if you are undiagnosed and think you may have anxiety or depression, see a doctor. Be aware, accept and seek treatment because your emotional wellness impacts all other aspects of wellness, which is also why using the advice above can help anyone grow in all Six Dimensions of Wellness. Being kind, inviting, and helping others all focus in the social dimension. Being creative with gifts, helping others learn, and traveling all impact the intellectual dimension. Continuing or beginning healthy habits with eating and exercise are in the physical dimension. Being wise with money is part of the occupational dimension. Managing stress and sadness, acceptance, and focusing on positivity are the emotional dimension. And, lastly, the spiritual dimension is enhanced by volunteering, sharing joy, getting involved in the community, religion or environment, and feeling universal harmony and connectedness.



A. Greenberg and J. Berktold. American Psychological Association. (2006, December 12). Holiday Stress [Press release].

Mayo Clinic. (2017, September 16). Tips for coping with holiday stress. Retrieved November 6, 2018.

Lindsay Born is a Health Promotion and Wellness major at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her minor is in psychology. Lindsay is currently an intern at the National Wellness Institute, engaging in marketing, writing, planning, and communication projects.

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