The 2020 holiday season is the strangest in living memory. Most people are cut off from their extended families, gatherings are restricted or discouraged, and COVID-19 numbers continue to rise. Some are embracing simpler holiday traditions, while others are feeling isolated and sad that they cannot participate in their annual traditions.

This year, many people have increased their social media usage to stay connected during lockdowns and other pandemic mandates. As we move into the holiday season, though, it’s fair to ask how all that online activity is affecting us—especially when it comes to holiday depression.

The Realities of Holiday Depression

Although most people think of the holidays as a happy time, the truth is that many people experience depression during the holiday season. These “holiday blues” can be caused by a number of things, including stress, exhaustion, financial stress, isolation, and over-commercialization. If holiday depression is something you struggle with, know that you’re not the only one!

Holiday anxiety and depression is more common than most people think, even during a normal year, and  “the pandemic is compounding those feelings” according to Dr. Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, Assistant Professor at Duquense University’s School of Nursing. With the COVID-19 pandemic separating families and placing financial strain on people all over the world, it’s likely to be even worse in 2020. People have all kinds of coping methods for dealing with the holiday blues, but it can be difficult to control in some cases.

Do Consumer Behavior Restrictions Impact Mood?

For retailers, the holidays are crucial. Many stores, both online and brick-and-mortar rely on holiday sales to help them make up their annual profit. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, normal consumer behavior patterns have changed.

Because people have been told to stay home, they are doing the majority of their shopping online. This has put pressure on shipping companies and has made the logistics of holiday shopping more difficult. Other restrictions, like personal reluctance to spend due to job loss from the pandemic, may also be affecting consumers’ behavior and mood.

Everyone has been responding differently to the pandemic. If you’ve been feeling a stronger urge to shop or, alternatively, more stress around shopping due to tight finances, then restrictions from COVID might be affecting your habits and mood.

Is Social Media Making Holiday Depression Worse? 

Most people realize that social media has its downsides. Even though many people have been using social media a lot more in 2020, most of us acknowledge that it doesn’t always make us feel very good. Even if serious issues like cyberbullying aren’t affecting someone, that doesn’t mean social media is harmless.

Studies have shown that social media can have a negative impact on mental health. It has been linked to all kinds of problems, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, inattention, and poor sleep quality. People who use social media excessively often feel isolated and cut off from the real world.

Because we already know that social media isn’t good for our mental health, it’s important to be aware of how social media could make holiday depression even worse.

“Social isolation during the holidays already makes people feel depressed” says Dr. Steers; “however, seeing other people’s social media posts about celebrating the holidays can exacerbate these feelings of loneliness and depression and also lead to feelings of self-doubt that they are the only ones making these difficult choices.”

If you’re sad about missing out on your normal holiday activities, then logging onto Facebook or Instagram and seeing photos of cheerful decorations and treats could make your feelings of isolation worse.

How to Combat Holiday Depression 

The first step in coping with holiday depression is acknowledging it. You can’t create positive changes if you’re not willing to admit that you’re feeling sad this holiday season. Understand that social media might be a contributing factor and consider doing a “digital detox.” Replace online activity with meditation, exercise, and fun activities.

If you’re doing something different this holiday season out of necessity, embrace it. Instead of attending an ugly sweater party, sit down and make homemade decorations while sipping cider or eggnog. Connect with people virtually and enjoy the same activity together. It’s not the same as being in the same place, but these connections are still important right now.

Be kind to yourself and don’t put too much pressure on the holidays. You can still enjoy yourself, even if you’re limited to watching holiday movies and making a smaller batch of cookies. Depression can be difficult to cope with, but you just need to find things that work best for you.

This is an exceptionally hard holiday season after a very difficult year. If you’re struggling with holiday depression, know that you’re not alone. Lots of people are feeling cut off and it’s okay to just take care of yourself!