Holiday Depression and Stress

The holiday season is a cheerful or ordinary time for some and a depressing or stressful period for many. It’s advertised by the culture as a joyous time of the year, but since most of the society is extremely anxious, depressed, and dissociated, a lot of people’s anxiety and depression creep to the surface. A person is expected – by others or by themselves – to feel happiness, vitality, connection with others, and gratitude. But many actually feel anxiety, loneliness, tiredness, sadness, shame, guilt, hate, confusion, and hopelessness.

A person looks around and (falsely) perceives others as being happy: singing songs, buying gifts, spending time with their families and friends, eating, drinking, and partying. They look at themselves and at his or her emotional state, and they feel bad and confused. A lot of people feel guilty and shameful that they don't feel happy. “It seems that everybody’s having fun, but I feel depressed.” “What is wrong with me?” “Everyone’s enjoying their time with their family and friends, why do I feel anxious and sad?” “Nobody’s talking about feeling scared, confused, and anxious, so I’m probably the only one who feels this way.” “Everyone’s talking about gifts, celebration, and joy; everyone’s busy and happy, so why deep down am I depressed, numb, and unenthusiastic?” “I don’t feel happy – and everyone around me looks happy, so it must be me.” “I might as well continue to do what everybody else does.” The fact is that the majority of people are extremely unhappy, disconnected from themselves and from reality, confused, lonely, and mentally dead.

Some people wait for holidays in hope that something somehow will change. A holiday comes and goes, but fundamentally nothing changes, and the void inside them remains. A lot of people can fool themselves by getting into the “holiday spirit” and dissociating by doing various unhealthy things, but when the holiday ends they feel even more depressed than before. It’s the same mechanism as with any addictive behavior. You get a quick high (from drugs, alcohol, nicotine, buying something new, masturbating, eating a box of chocolates, etc.), but as the rush diminishes and the endorphins vaporize, an impending pang of despair unfolds. Then a person usually either feels empty, anxious, and hopeless, or looks for another high to manage their symptoms. A lot of people live through their lives by living from high to high. Shot to shot, drink to drink, payday to payday, relationship to relationship, weekend to weekend, vacation to vacation, celebration to celebration – dissociation to dissociation. Never stopping and really examining their life – therefore nothing really changes.

It’s not a coincidence that some people even kill themselves on or after the holiday season, their birthday, and other emotionally significant dates. People think, “Life sucks, and then you die – so what’s the point? Nothing will ever change, and I’m tired of this shit!“ Even if it‘s not true, or it doesn‘t have to be true, they feel tired, hopeless, and have no alternative perspective and no positive validation or understanding of their emotions, therefore they believe it.

For many people holidays include direct social interactions. During the holiday season they visit their family; on birthdays they get calls and visits from their parents, friends, and acquaintances; on New Year’s Eve they spend time with people, too. Even though in reality they don’t have any real social obligations – except to their children – many people feel obligated to socialize with people they deep down don’t really enjoy spending time with. And as we all know, spending time with people you don’t really like that much often can be extremely stressful.

Therefore you feel anxious if you know that a holiday is coming and that you “have” to see your father who used to beat you and who belittles and insults you; or your mother who neglected you and who still is very controlling and co-dependent; or your grandparents who argue and complain a lot, and don’t have any idea what kind of person you really are; or your uncle who uses you as a surrogate parent to take care of him; or your “friends” and acquaintances who are selfish, boring, diss each other, dissociate all the time, or have no emotional depth and integrity. If you think about going to an environment that is toxic or that you don’t really like, and about participating in activities that are very unhealthy and you don’t really enjoy, then this thought – and later these actions – produce an enormous amount of very unpleasant emotions, experiences, and memories (that you may or may not immediately repress). Especially if you believe you don’t have a choice not to do that.

Many people feel obligated to be in toxic or empty relationships (mainly with their family members) because of their deeply engrained Stockholm syndrome, unprocessed traumas, inner wounds, stunted development, lack of survival skills, low self-esteem, distorted or missing feeling of self and one‘s identity, ignorance, social pressure, cultural standards, fear of loneliness, unjust guilt and shame, and other factors. And for some people the choice of not being in such relationships really is very limited (at least at the current time), because they were raised to be dependent on their parents for the rest of their life and to be conformists. Therefore even if they realize they are not obligated to do all of that, their options are severely limited if they, for example, still live with their family members or are financially dependent on them.

But I think it’s very important to realize that there are no unchosen positive obligations, and that fundamentally you don’t owe anything to anyone. Your time, your money, your energy, your emotions, and your thoughts belong to you and it’s only up to you how and where you want to invest them. You still might decide to spend time with people you don’t really like, but it’s quite different when you know that you don’t have to do this and when you’re consciously aware of your real reasons and motivations vs. doing it out of bogus obligation, or lying to yourself about the reasons for doing this.

If you feel horror and anxiety when you think about having a Christmas dinner with your parents, your feelings are valid and they are telling you something. If you don’t want to visit your family members for whatever reason, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to exchange Christmas gifts, you don’t have to. If you feel that your parents or other family members don’t really love you, but you need their financial support and they need your attention, you don’t have to lie to yourself that you love each other. If you don’t want to celebrate New Year’s Eve with people you don’t really know or like by drinking and screaming while loud music plays, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to do something – you don’t have to. You can do all of those things, but it’s OK if you feel you don’t want to, and you don’t have to do anything.

Your life belongs to you. Your body, time, money, and other resources belong to you – invest them wisely, and be aware and honest about what you’re doing and why. Honesty, awareness, and clarity are the first step to freedom. Also, if you're not happy with you're life, there are ways to change it – and only you yourself can do that.

Support my work by becoming a Patreon subscriber for $5/mo or more and get access to bonus articles. And check out my book Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults. Thanks!


  1. Thanks for this, Darius.

    I really don't care about Christmas but I wish you have a good season ;)


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