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Depression, Winter, and the Holiday Season

The convergence of the holiday season and winter often creates the perfect storm for a mental health crisis for migraine patients.

We know three main things that contribute to this reality:

1. Migraine patients are more likely to live with depression and anxiety than the general population.

2. The stresses of the holiday season, including expectations and family dysfunction, stir up issues for many of us that complicate our mental health conditions.

3. During the winter depression is even tougher to manage because of the lack of sunlight and opportunities for exercise to combat our depressive tendencies.

But please don’t let these realities trick you into believing there is no way to manage this perfect storm of factors. By arming yourself with coping techniques and support, you can fight back.

Seek Out Therapy

If you’re not already in therapy or counseling to cope with your migraine disease, please consider developing a relationship with a qualified counselor who meets your particular needs. Having this kind of relationship in place before the most difficult part of the year gives you a chance to identify the particular issues that make the winter and holiday seasons difficult for you and to brainstorm strategies you can rely on to help you cope when the hard times set in.

Avoid Isolation

If being apart from those you love or not having meaningful relationships with family is a trigger for your holiday and winter depression issues, brainstorm ways to combat this in advance. Things like volunteering in your community or reaching out online to others in similar situations can be incredibly helpful.

Manage Your Commitments

If being around your family too much causes you more problems with depression and anxiety, carefully manage the time you spend with them. Try to identify which aspects of your interactions are most problematic and excuse yourself when these situations present themselves. Deciding in advance with your spouse when you will excuse yourselves can be a helpful strategy.

Focus on Gratitude

While it can be incredibly difficult when you are depressed, try to get into the habit of keeping a gratitude journal. This can be as simple as writing down a list of one, three or five things every single day that you are grateful for in your life. Even when things seem incredibly dismal, focusing on something positive in your life can help shift your focus.

Treat the Past as a Teacher

Examine past holiday seasons to try to spot patterns in particular activities, pressures or commitments that caused you problems. By determining what has been especially difficult in past years you can use that information to strategize which events you’ll attend or avoid and how you can avoid people, places or commitments that caused you problems.

Get Help if You’re in Crisis

If you have suicidal thoughts, please get help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This hotline is staffed by trained volunteers who can put you in touch with resources in your area. Someone is available to answer your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on holidays.

What helps you cope with holiday and winter-related depression? Please share in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • marti
    7 years ago

    I take anti-depressants to get through the winter, but I also try to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. There are no windows in my department at work so I keep sunny pictures on my walls and my computer. Fortunately, I work with understanding people, and when they (gently) tease me sometimes, they always know to expect a creatively “angry” response. For instance, if it threatens to snow (which I hate beyond all words and reason,) I’ll tell them I’m going to the parking lot and start all the cars and leave them running all day so global warming will stop the evil white scourge from bringing destruction down from the sky. We all laugh and I feel a little better. Like I said, humor helps and I’m very lucky they understand.

  • Julie
    7 years ago

    I have suffered from SAD during the winter. Last year my therapist suggested getting a light and use it 1st thing in the morning when winter sets in. I got a NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp. It uses 10,000-lux light therapy which is closer to the natural blue sky but it has white light therapy. She said for me to stay away from blue light therapy as it is not as effective for SAD and to stay w/the 10,000 lux and don’t go any lower. It has an adjustable timer and will shut off automatically and I can choose to use the ION or not. You work up slowly to the amt of time you use it. I did notice a difference when I used it last year. It’s time to get it out and start up w/it again this winter as the mornings are getting darker and I’m feeling more sluggish and getting those winter blues. I got mine on Amazon but I’m sure you can find them at most drugstores.
    And keep your support lines open like this one. I love this site and the help you get from pro’s like Diana and Ellen and from the online community. And also from your own therapist and circle of friends. And don’t forget to take your meds! And if you think they are not effective as they were before talk to your doctor like I just did. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    Thank you again Diana.

  • Cindi
    7 years ago

    I’m with Ellen. This website has become my iFriend and helps me with all kind of things. I live alone with my new kitten but my children are all in the same city. But coming here to see what’s up in the neighborhood is often more helpful that I expect! Thanks Diana!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Great suggestions Diana. These are really useful for everyday life too!

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