Therapist Advises Those Prone to Holiday Depression to Plan Ahead

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San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT says for those vulnerable to holiday blues, now is the time to start preparing so the effects are more manageable.

During the holidays, everything is focused on home, family, and joy, but when you are lacking these things, or are going through some kind of loss--your own pain is exaggerated

It’s that time of year again--the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and Christmas decorations are already up at many of your favorite stores. Lots of people enjoy the holidays, but for some the early decorations are a reminder of a time of the year that brings more sadness than joy.

The Holiday season--beginning before Thanksgiving and ending in New Years Day--is a stressful and difficult time for many people.

“The holidays are supposed to be a fun time of the year for people, filled with celebrations, parties, and gatherings with family and friends--but for many people it’s a time filled with loneliness and depression," says San Francisco psychotherapist Michael Halyard, MFT.

Halyard is a San Francisco therapist and can be found on the websites and

“Shorter darker days, lousy weather, unrealistic expectations, strained family relationships, demands of socializing, overeating, too much sugar, not enough sleep, lack of exercise, financial difficulties, commercialism, holiday crowds, and extra traffic--taken together are a perfect recipe for holiday depression,” reveals Halyard.

"During the holidays, everything is focused on home, family, and joy, but when you are lacking these things, or are going through some kind of loss--your own pain is exaggerated," adds Halyard.

Halyard says much of the problem is in people's expectations, due to the media images of what the Holidays are supposed to be.

“Let’s face it, the holidays are not all they're cracked up to be. American culture continues to promote the image of the happy intact family with the white picket fence. Television and movie depictions of the holidays are of perfect families having fun, enjoying their holidays together. These media images are often a sharp contrast to our own family and can exacerbate and trigger feelings of sadness and loss,” says Halyard.

The truth is, however that the perfect family doesn’t exist-- even those families that are intact with the white picket fence have their share of problems.

Often people try to counteract the emotional strain of the holidays with unhealthy behaviors like isolating, overeating, over-consuming alcohol, and drug use. For those with addictive tendencies-- these behaviors go into overdrive during the holidays. It’s not uncommon for people increase their alcohol consumption during the holidays to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions.

Halyard says all is not lost, because there are ways to prevent and lessen the holiday blues.

“Thorough planning, exercising, eating and drinking in moderation, having realistic expectations, setting and sticking to a budget, and getting emotional support will go a long way to help alleviate holiday depression.”

“Now is the time to start planning--when you have plenty of time. You should think about strategies to keep yourself busy, how to surround yourself with supportive people, and what you need to do maintain healthy habits. It’s an excellent time to join a gym & establish a routine that you can stick to for the long haul,” explains Halyard.

Halyard adds that emotional support is still the best antidote for holiday stress.

“Whether from your friends, community groups, a 12-step group, or a therapist, getting emotional support will help you cope with the stress of the holidays, and support you in your goals, whether that’s keeping you sober or maintaining a healthy diet,” says Halyard.

Halyard says the dangers of overindulging in alcohol and drugs cannot be overstated.

"Alcohol and drugs distort a person's feelings. Alcohol is a depressant--if you are depressed, it will make you more depressed! Alcohol may appear to make you feel better, but in the long run you'll end up feeling worse. When you are under the influence, it is easy to make bad decisions that have major consequences," warns Halyard.

Not over-committing yourself during the holidays in social activities and self-imposed tasks like decorating will also help to reduce your stress. It’s okay to say ‘no’ and not attend parties or family gatherings.

“These are your holidays--make them what you want them to be. Don’t spend time doing things you don’t want to do. Don’t spend the holidays with your family if you know you’re going to be miserable. Make plans to see the people you care about, have a pot-luck for your friends, a night out at your favorite restaurant, or a quiet visit with a friend,” says Halyard.

“Celebrate the holiday any way you feel like it and be at peace with that. If you don’t know what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, invite your friends over for a holiday celebration. With a little planning and positive thinking, you can enjoy the holidays more than you ever thought you could,” explains Halyard.

“Whatever you do, don’t isolate--get connected with your community. If you need to make new friends, get involved with some community activities or volunteer. Stay away from people who bring you down, put you down, or drain your energy. Instead be around positive people. If too many of your friends are negative, it might be time to make some new ones, adds Halyard.”

If the holiday blues are severe enough, you could be suffering from clinical depression. Make sure to see a mental health professional if your symptoms are severe and the depression lasts more than two weeks. Even if you don’t see yourself as depressed, you could still be suffering from depression. Symptoms to worry about include crying spells, trouble sleeping, loss of pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, hopelessness, low energy, difficulty concentrating and changes in appetite. Suicidal thoughts require urgent attention by a mental health professional.

“If you think negatively towards the holidays, you’re going to feel negatively towards the holidays. If you think of the holidays as a chance to get some time off from work, some time to spend with friends and celebrate your friendships, you will see the holidays as a good thing! The good news is the holidays aren’t going to last forever--they’ll be over before you know it. Try to enjoy the holidays this year. Also, get treatment if you need it, it will surely make for a Happier New Year,” adds Halyard.


Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He can be found on the websites and

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