Right about the time the Halloween decorations make their first appearance, most folks are gearing up for the holiday season. Family, traditions, parties, and lots of gifts — what’s not to like? In reality, all of us know that the end-of-the-year holidays can be a mixed bag. This goes double for anyone already struggling with depression.
Schedules get disrupted, financial pressure increases and social demands skyrocket. All of this adds up to more stress and, depending on your circumstances, some serious challenges. However, with some advance planning, you can prepare for those challenges and find some joy. Let’s take a closer look.
A Few Common Reasons Why Depression Can Feel Worse During the Holidays
If we were to believe holiday movies and lyrics to seasonal music, we’d think harmony rules the day. Meanwhile, plenty of people have preexisting family issues that serve to get exacerbated by the holiday scene. You may be dealing with a divorce or the loss of a loved one. Then you have those relatives who love to provoke fights. Any or all of this is made trickier when dealing with depression.
Not everyone has family nearby and/or a big social circle. The prospect of not getting or giving many gifts can be daunting. Not having anywhere to go on the big day can bring up feelings of shame. The holiday season can make it appear that everyone has their act together except you.
Sure, there’s the gift-giving, the decorating, and the gatherings. But perhaps the biggest expectation this time of year is for you to be happy and merry. Someone with depression is already juggling some tough symptoms. The pressure to be smiling and joyous is unfair and often results in depression symptoms worsening.
On some level, the goings-on can help distract you from your loss. But since the season is sustained, it will likely make the grief more acute. Even when you have fun, you may wish your loved one could experience it, too. You may even feel guilty for having fun.
Depression can temporarily take away the joy you once found in certain activities. During the holidays, you may feel guilty for not appreciating the traditions and together-time. Such guilt can deepen the depressive experience as you believe you’re letting others down.
It will be necessary to work with a mental health professional but, at the same time, self-care is a powerful complementary option, e.g.
- Modulate your expectations. No one — depression or not — can satisfy everyone’s needs this time of year. So, decide how much you’re willing and able to do, and then set boundaries. This is not rude, selfish, or anti-social. It’s self-love.
- Create a plan in advance to escape the scene if family drama explodes. Work with your therapist to formulate an exit strategy that will spare you the pain without causing a scene for leaving.
- Talk to loved ones. Don’t struggle alone. Let trusted friends and family members know what you’re feeling. Recruit them to help you maintain balance amidst the celebratory chaos. It could be a loved one who is instrumental in the exit strategies mentioned above.
- Don’t overindulge. Too much food and alcohol will make things worse — as will disrupting your sleep and exercise schedules.
Adhering to tips like this will go a long way in navigating holiday season depression but again, connect with a therapist. Having the benefit of an experienced guide is a giant step toward keeping yourself centered in a time of high expectations.