Holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness and laughter, but that’s not always the case. When you lose a loved one close to this special time of year, festive gatherings are likely the furthest thing from your mind. Similarly, dealing with the stress of a layoff or feeling overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities for an elderly parent could make the holiday season feel more like a chore.
Difficult life events come with feelings of sadness and grief that, for some, could lead to a more serious condition: depression. For others, this is an everyday battle. For people who suffer from depression, it can happen at any time, but holidays tend to be harder for many.
Whether you have chronic depression that is worsened during the holiday season, you suffer from holiday anxiety and depression, or you have recently experienced a loss, it’s important that you take your mental health seriously. Here are some easy ways to manage and reduce holiday depression.
Get Plenty of Rest
One of the reasons depression is worse during the holidays is due to how stressful and hectic the season can get when you’re juggling the purchase of gifts for everyone with hosting parties and making sure the kids are taken care of on their break from school. If you are prone to depressive feelings, make sure you are getting enough sleep. Schedule your time around a normal sleeping schedule and take naps as needed. Going to bed at the same time every day is a good way to start improving your sleeping habits. On days when you are planning a big family meal or going shopping, make sure you don’t overdo it.
Keep Your Children Relaxed
Another source of depression during the holidays has to do with your children. If you have children who get anxious during the holidays, such as from social anxiety, it helps to plan ahead and calm them down. This is helpful since children going through a hard time can trigger your own negative emotions. It also makes it harder to comfort them when you are in a major depressive episode, so planning for their comfort is something to think about beforehand.
Talk to your children before the holidays and give them some quick tips for dealing with social anxiety when being around family. If they don’t feel comfortable hugging others, teach them how to initiate a handshake instead. Give them quiet activities that can distract them during stressful situations, such as reading a book, playing with a new app on their smartphone or tablet, or a enjoying a quiet game during a party. Also, consider creating a signal that your child can give you when they get uncomfortable and need to leave.
Give Yourself Time to Grieve
If your holiday depression is due to a traumatic event, make sure you let yourself grieve as needed. Don’t just put your feelings aside, assuming the busy holiday schedule will distract you enough. That grief is only going to build and make you feel worse when you get the chance to breathe and relax. If something bad happens or you lose someone you love before the holidays, take some time for yourself to grieve. Know that it is OK to feel sad, and talk to someone if you need to, whether that is a loved one, a therapist, a friend or a support group.
Avoid Substances to Ease Depression
If you have been struggling with depression for awhile, you likely already know that alcohol and drugs provide short-term relief but long-term consequences. Having a few drinks to take the edge off during the holidays might seem like a good idea, but alcohol is a depressant that can trigger panic attacks. As soon as you sober up, you will feel much worse than you did before you had a drink, making your depression worse.
Instead of reaching for a cocktail, look for other ways to ease your mind. Choose healthy distractions, such as exercise, and take some time for yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Depression isn’t something you need to deal with on your own. If you’re getting overwhelmed with planning a Christmas dinner or are feeling stressed about your holiday budget, ask for help. Have someone watch your kids on a particularly bad day or have a neighbor assist you in various errands. Reach out to others when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to just be with you on a bad day.
Depression isn’t something that should be taken lightly, even if it’s only due to the holiday season. If you’re unable to manage your grief or depression on your own, consider contacting a mental health professional or your primary care physician for help.