4 Ways to Keep Your Depression in Check During the Holidays

Health Conditions

4 Ways to Keep Your Depression in Check During the Holidays

Holidays.Clinical Depression.Stress
Lauren Modery
By Lauren Modery
Nov 21, 2019
Woman standing outside while it is snowing

If you get down during the holidays, you’re not alone. A 2014 survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that the majority of respondents have increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, particularly for those who have a mental illness. Over 64 percent of respondents with mental illness said the holidays make their conditions worse.

There are many, many reasons why we feel an increase in sadness during the holidays: being away from loved ones; missing a loved one who has passed away; not being on speaking terms with family; thinking about the past; having unrealistic expectations; feeling financial strain; feeling overwhelmed by travel, meal preparation, gift-giving….the list goes on and on. The holidays are a perfect storm, where heightened stress, nostalgia, and being overwhelmed meet.

In previous articles, we’ve discussed ways to understand triggers and cope with the holiday season and how to deal with the first holiday without a loved one, but in this article, we wanted to dive deeper into how to keep depression in check during the holidays. We spoke with Williams Schroeder, LPC, NCC, Co-Owner and Counselor at Just Mind Counseling, and Emily Stone, PhD, of Just Mind Counseling on tips for getting through this time of year.

Listen to your body:

One of the biggest steps you can take in recognizing and managing your feelings during the holidays is tuning into your body. Stress can take a toll on the body, often revealing itself through stomach problems, headaches, sleeping issues, raised heart rate, body pains are more.

Stone says that listening to your body during the holidays is vital. “Trust your own internal compass of care,” she says. “Pay attention to when you need to push and when you need to pace yourself. There may be times that you decide it is worth enduring some discomfort to receive the gains of connection. Other times, you will decide that the toll the discomfort puts on your body, mind and emotions is not worth the expense.”

Create a plan:

This holiday season consider entering into the season with some structure. “A saying in neuroscience is what fires together, wires together,” says Schroeder. “Simply put, it means think about the holidays and try to build a plan that you believe might help you enjoy them better and it likely will.

This could mean having eggnog or mulled wine and watching a holiday movie with a friend. It could mean working at a soup kitchen and helping those in need. For someone else, it may mean staying at a hotel instead of with a tricky family or doing projects like raking leaves instead of feeling stuck in the house. Honestly, it can be anything that you think would help to add some meaning and joy to your holiday.”

For tips on creating structure during the holidays, check out our guide on recognizing holiday-time triggers.

Set your expectations low:

A common stress factor during the holidays is putting unrealistic expectations on yourself or others, or feeling as though others are putting unrealistic expectations on you.

We often want the holidays to be perfect, whether that looks like recreating the happy memories of our youth, or stressing about making sure our family gets everything they want. These sort of expectations can lead to trouble. “From Pinterest to Hallmark, a myriad of influences will dictate what the holidays “should” look like for you,” says Stone. “There is no “should.” There really isn’t.

The holidays can be whatever you want them to be. Find your own rhythm and rituals. Simple can be the sweetest.” We know setting expectations low during the holidays can seem impossible, but if you feel yourself getting over-stimulated, try to challenge yourself, or your loved ones, to recognize that you are feeling that way and let go.

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Talk to others:

It’s easy to internalize or not even acknowledge adverse feelings during the holidays. Now is the perfect time to speak to someone about them, whether it’s a loved one, friend, your primary care doctor or therapist.

Schroeder says people often seek mental health help AFTER the holidays, but there is no harm in connecting with one during. “I don’t think it’s a mistake to seek out therapy as a support during the holidays especially if you know that’s a time of year that’s tricky for you. I would actually suggest seeking it out a good bit in advance so you have time to build a foundation of something different.”

If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, the holidays might be a good time to connect with a support group.

If you see a loved one experiencing feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression during the holidays, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say or do. Schroeder says it’s important to not minimize the person’s emotions.

Instead, he says, invite them to sit down and discuss ways you can help. “It can be incredibly healing to hear something like: “Your feelings/struggles are safe with me,” “I’m here,” “How is your heart today?” or “How can I love you well today?”adds Stone. “It is also meaningful to be invited to participate even if your loved one chooses not to do so. Make it clear that either choice is ok. Remember that their experience of this time of year is not about you. It can be difficult at times and try not to take it personally.”

The holiday season isn’t one size fits all. Each year can feel different from the rest. This year, don’t forget to check in with yourself, set some boundaries and make time for yourself. If you deal with depression during the holidays, you deserve a little self-care and self-love.

This holiday season, try to be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in feeling complex emotions. If you, or anyone you know, needs immediate support, Samaritans offers a 24/7 crisis helpline at 1-877-870-4673, as well as text and online chat options. If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, there is help. Please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Lauren Modery

Lauren Modery

Lauren Modery is a writer based in Boulder, CO. She’s written for Google, LIVESTRONG Foundation, Whole Foods, City of Austin, The Guardian, GOOD Magazine, Fodor’s, and several health & wellness startups. Her award-winning film, Loves Her Gun, premiered at SXSW in 2013 and was selected as a Critic’s Pick in the New York Times. Lauren is a regular contributor to the RxSaver Blog.

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