New Year’s Depression: Yes, It’s Real. What You Can Do.

Many people struggle with holiday depression, and for some it peaks on New Year’s Eve. Those with existing depression are particularly vulnerable to the mental health challenges of this big night with major expectations. The start to the new year does not have to be stressful, sad, or lonely. A few changes and new traditions can turn the holiday into something positive and an evening that supports good mental health.

It can be hard to admit that New Year’s Eve isn’t your favorite holiday. It’s supposed to be one of the best party nights of the year, a time of reflection, and a time to set the tone for the coming year. But these are unreasonable expectations for a single day or night. Let go of the expectations, enjoy this day the way you want, focus on yourself and not what others want you to do, and you can get through this holiday to enjoy a great new year.

New Year’s Depression is a Real Phenomenon

It’s a well-known and researched fact that the holiday season worsens or triggers mental health symptoms in many people. If you already have depression, this time of year can make it worse, but even people without diagnosed mental illness are vulnerable.

The entire season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, causes stress, anxiety, and depression for many reasons:

  • Stress is a major component of holiday blues. The stress associated with buying gifts, making big dinners, and attending parties can become overwhelming.
  • High expectations also trigger bad feelings, especially if you can’t meet them.
  • Finances cause a great deal of anxiety this time of year, particularly when coupled with the expectations of gift buying.
  • Some people end up isolated during the holidays, which can trigger depression.
  • Grief is often amplified at the holidays, especially if you have lost a close loved one.
  • The colder weather and shorter days may trigger seasonal depression.

All of these issues, and more, apply to New Year’s depression as well, but there’s more to this phenomenon. Loneliness and isolation are major factors. New Year’s Eve is a time when people are expected to be around friends, partying and kissing someone at midnight. If you don’t have these things, it can feel like a failure.

Another issue that differs from the rest of the holiday season is the focus on reflection. Many people look over the past year and see a lot of disappointments. This is especially a problem if you tend to compare your own achievements with those of others.

The expectations of New Year’s Eve are huge, but another problem is the expectation for a new beginning. Many people feel as if this one holiday should set the tone for the rest of the year, which is unreasonable. If the night doesn’t go well, it does not mean the next 365 days will also be disappointing, but this is how many feel.

1. Embrace the New Year With Mental Health Resolutions

If you struggle with depression or other mental illnesses, this is a great opportunity to set goals for better mental health. Setting resolutions can bring a sense of hope to the coming year, but it can also be disappointing. Set goals that are reasonable and achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Here are some good examples:

  • Surround yourself with people who make you happy and begin to cut ties to those who do not.
  • Bring your focus to what you can control in your own life.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Get professional mental health treatment.

These are resolutions you can manage. When you meet them, it will boost your self-esteem and help you realize how much control you have in your life.

2. Reflect on Your Accomplishments, Not Those of Others

Did you fail to meet last year’s resolutions? Did you watch other people achieve goals and do great things while you struggled? Did you have a rough year? Reflecting on the past year can be a positive experience, but also a difficult one.

Reflection can be beneficial if you do it right. Make a list of what you accomplished, no matter how small. For example, if you wanted to lose 20 pounds but only lost 10, view it as a win, not a failure. Most importantly of all, avoid comparing yourself to others. Life is not a competition. It helps to take a break from social media, one of the most insidious comparison tools. Focus on you, your achievements, areas that need improvement, and the type of person you want to be, regardless of others.

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3. Engage in Distractions

Rumination is the negative cousin to reflection. Rumination is an obsessive type of thinking. People with depression tend to ruminate on negative thoughts and events, worsening depression. At this time of year, reflection can become rumination, triggering more depressive symptoms.

Distraction is a great tool for combatting this negative thought pattern. When you find yourself buried in bad thoughts, find an activity that engages your mind and your body. Exercise is one of the best ways to distract from negative thoughts. When the body is engaged, it’s tough for the mind to obsess. Get out for a walk to enjoy fresh air. If your thoughts persist, listen to a podcast or audiobook while you walk or walk with a friend.

4. Start a New Tradition That Makes You Happy

It’s time to let go of other people’s expectations. New Year’s Eve does not have to be a big party with a pretty dress and a lot of friends. If that makes you feel worse, do something different. Start a tradition for the holiday that benefits your mental health.

If this means staying home with your pets and watching movies alone, do it. If you don’t want to be alone, host a small gathering or sleepover with a few close friends. You might be surprised to find that they too would also prefer a small party to a big event.

5. Reach Out to Others

Social isolation only worsens depression. A strong support network is a useful fool in managing depression any time of year. If New Year’s makes you feel lonely, reach out and talk to someone you trust. Ask a friend or family member to spend a quiet New Year’s Eve with you.

Another important connection to make during a difficult time with depression is with a mental health professional. If you have a therapist, call to schedule more sessions or to engage with treatment again if you stopped.

Consider reaching out to treatment facilities if you’re really struggling. For some people, treatment in a residential center during the holidays is just what the doctor ordered. A treatment center can give you a safe place to ride out the holidays, while you do more than simply survive. They can provide active and varied treatment, a supportive community, and the tools you’ll need to start next year off on the right foot.

New Year’s depression may be a real phenomenon, but that does not mean it is inevitable or that you can’t do anything about it. Be proactive if you know this time of year impacts your mental health. Reach out to friends and family, make new traditions, reflect in positive ways, and get treatment if you need it.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.