Loss and Loneliness

The holidays can dredge up unhappy memories, says Peter A. Wish, Ph.D., a psychologist in Sarasota, Fla. “For some people, the holidays have a negative association,” he said. “The season can trigger bad memories or feelings.”

You may be able to determine what’s causing these negative feelings, Cobb says. “It may be some people can predict their holiday blues, especially if they have experienced a loss around that time of year,” she said.

Those who have recently lost loved ones may be reminded that they aren’t with those people anymore, says Jim Bentley, Ph.D., a psychologist and hypnotherapist in Austin, Texas. “As memories of those people and the holidays resurface, depression can develop,” he said.

Cobb says the holidays also can make blue moods seem more intense because people think they are odd for not feeling as happy as everyone else.

“During the holidays, there can be an exaggerated sense of not belonging,” Cobb said. “The holidays can highlight and accentuate a sense of loneliness.”

Great Family Expectations

Expecting too much from the holidays can lead to the blues, too.

“People’s expectations of the holidays can be unrealistically high,” Goldberg said. “The contrast between people’s expectations and what actually happens can leave them feeling unfulfilled and let down.”

Multiple families, family reunions and houseguests may contribute to the tension and sadness during the holidays, Bentley says. “The holidays can remind people of how fragmented they are,” he said.

“During the holidays, rivalries can emerge and there can be conflicts with family members,” Goldberg said. “For instance, if you are divorced, you may be dealing with multiple families, ex-in-laws or not having your kids during the holidays.”