Those who have struggled with depression during the holidays know that no single event often triggers it. While many people might mistakenly think it’s just the same as being really sad or always provoked by an unfortunate thing that happened, it’s actually much more complicated than that. Often, it isn’t triggered by anything visible to outside observers at all.
However, there are still certain things you can avoid or plan for as you go about the holidays that will help you protect against depression developing or getting worse. If you’re feeling overwhelmed for an extended period, for instance, feeling anxious, or if you’re putting the pressure of perfectionism on yourself, then those states of mind can create or heighten depression.
So what can you do to protect yourself from slipping into these states of mind? How can you make yourself less vulnerable to depression during the holidays? Consider following these steps and reaching out to a mental health professional if you think you’ll need support on an ongoing basis.
Reach out instead of turning in.
When you’re depressed, it can feel impossible to go out or spend time with anyone. That would require a level of energy you don’t have. If you think this way, it’s essential not to be too hard on yourself and allow yourself times when you won’t push it. But it’s equally important not to let yourself stay comfortably home alone all the time. When you do, you become more vulnerable to self-hating thoughts. You also might find yourself dipping into unhealthy habits, like relying on alcohol or substances to get you through dark thoughts. This is a dangerous road to go down, as such substances will quickly lead to even more feelings of guilt and self-hatred. So it’s essential to push yourself to see people at least occasionally so that you’re reminded of the people you have who care about you.
Practice patience and realistic expectations.
Many people feel worse than usual during the holidays because they imagine them to be a particular way. Their reality fails to live up to that picture. Suppose you have a strained relationship with your family, for instance. In that case, there is no logical reason to expect that this holiday season will be any better. If no one in the family has taken any steps to address whatever causes that tension, nothing will miraculously change overnight. Just because characters in movies go through magical transformations during the holidays doesn’t mean that your critical sister will.
There are some behaviors that you shouldn’t stand for, like abuse of any kind. But suppose your loved ones’ behaviors fall short of deliberately, repeatedly, and unrepentantly hurting you. In that case, try to prepare yourself for being with them by visualizing what such time is usually like. Get a clear picture of it in your head to go in with realistic expectations, and prepare yourself to deal with that time patiently.
Take time to grieve if you need to.
Unaddressed grief can turn into a significant emotional problem in your life. It can even start manifesting itself in physical symptoms, like trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. Particularly during the holidays, when emotions are high, it can seem more straightforward to bury any grief that you have rather than trying to deal with it honestly. Burying it won’t make it go away, though; it’ll only make it worse. Feelings of grief don’t just evaporate and disappear into the atmosphere if you try not to feel them. They’re going to go somewhere, so it’s a better idea to deal with them healthily than let them cause you more problems down the line. If there’s some unaddressed grief in your life, try talking to someone you know who’s been through a similar time. Or consult a therapist – many will be willing to help you even for just the season if that’s what you’re interested in.
Get enough sleep.
Unfortunately, the holidays are a time when most people – most adults, at least – get less sleep than usual. Between parties to go to and errands to run, time seems like it’s in shorter supply than ever. But it’s essential to prioritize sleep during this season. To do so, you’ll probably need to do some deliberate planning. If you have to be busy the day after the office Christmas party, ask a friend to stop you after you’ve had two drinks so you can say your goodbyes and enjoy a good night’s sleep. If you know you’re going to have a busy week, make a schedule for which days you’ll do which things so that you don’t get too overloaded all at once. It takes some deliberate planning, but it’s not impossible to get the rest you need over the holidays. And it’s essential to do so because when you’re sleep-deprived, you run an increased chance of experiencing more symptoms of depression.
Feed your body, not your emotions.
Holidays can be celebrated with lots of food. When feeling down or depressed, some people may turn to food for comfort. However, when you do that, often, feelings of guilt and shame arise. This only adds to your depression. Try to eat intuitively. Try not to eat out of boredom or anxiety. Become aware of whether you are eating for nourishment and to satiate hunger versus feeding into your emotions.
Commit yourself to a spiritual practice.
Maybe there’s a specific religion you follow, or perhaps you enjoy getting your mind centered with a practice like guided meditation. Whatever it is that you do to ground yourself spiritually, remember to prioritize it over the holidays. It can help you keep a bigger perspective than your own private experience, and it can offer feelings of calm and reassurance that you won’t get elsewhere. Spiritual practices might feel like something you can sacrifice when you’re short on time. Still, they shouldn’t be if you care about staying healthy and well over the holidays.
The holidays are a time when it’s even more important than usual to take care of yourself. If that’s something you want to talk more about, you cancall us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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