Those who have struggled with depression during the holidays know that often there is no single event that triggers it. While many people might mistakenly think it’s just the same as being really sad, or that it’s always provoked by a particular sad 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, 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 that will leave you vulnerable to the kind of depression during the holidays that it’ll be hard to recover from in the New Year? 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, like that would just require a level of energy you don’t have. If you feel this way, it’s important not to be too hard on yourself and to 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 important 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 one way in their minds, and the reality fails to live up to that picture. If you have a strained relationship with your family, for instance, then there is no logical reason to expect that this holiday season will be better if no one in the family has taken any steps to address whatever it is that causes that tension. 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 if your loved ones’ behaviors fall short of deliberately, repeatedly, and unrepentantly hurting you, then 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 so that you can 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 major emotional problem in your life, one that can even start manifesting itself in physical symptoms, like trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. Particularly at the holidays, when emotions are high, it can seem easier 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 rather than more. 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, and 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.
Commit yourself to a spiritual practice.
Maybe there’s a specific religion you follow, or maybe 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 perspective that’s bigger 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, but 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.