The holiday season is quickly approaching. In the space of about a month, people will gather their families together for Thanksgiving, any number of religious celebrations, and New Year’s Eve. And chances are that the thought of hosting or attending so many get-togethers either leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling or fills you with dread. Are you ready to forge ahead or is holiday depression holding you back?
Depression and the Holidays
For many people, depression is a daily fact of life. Finding the “oomph” to get out of bed, go to work and to simply take care of yourself is difficult when your mind and body seems to be conspiring against you. For others, depression comes in waves and is related to situations. Stress-filled holiday planning can certainly be a trigger for some people.
Whether your depression is closely tied to the holidays or just happens to coincide with the season, you’ll probably experience some of these symptoms: fatigue despite plenty of sleep, anxiety, lack of focus, no energy, no joy out of daily life or no hopeful anticipation of the future. You may keep the holiday decorations boxed up this year, having no energy or desire to put them out. You might not make holiday cookies this year, even though it’s tradition. Gift-giving might seem like a chore instead of an adventure.
What’s worse, you’ll probably be chided for not “having holiday cheer” or for “being a Grinch” by family members who don’t understand depression. They may tell you to “just be happy,” without realizing that there is no on/off switch for depression symptoms. It can be tough to fake your way through the holidays, too. Even with a smile on your face, your loved ones will notice that you aren’t talking as often as normal, or with as much animation. They may prod you to find out what’s wrong so that they can help you feel better. If only it were that easy.
So what can you do if depression or another mental illness is present in your life during the holidays? The most important things you can do are: be kind to yourself, talk to someone you trust, and allow others to help you.
Be kind to yourself. If you don’t go all out this year, it’s no big deal. People get busy and it happens, so don’t worry about disappointing anyone. After all, get-togethers are about enjoying each other’s company, not about whether the cookies on the table are homemade or whether every single decoration is put up around the house.
Talk to someone you trust. Don’t let your feelings stay bottled up until they reach the breaking point. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or physician about anything that is causing you great stress. Are you worried about whether your extremely religious uncle will make a scene about your recent divorce? Are you sad because this is the first celebration since a family member passed away? If you know what is bothering you, get it out in the open. You will feel better after simply acknowledging it, and your trusted confidant might actually have some tangible ways to help you through it.
Allow others to help you. You may be independent by nature, but “giving” is on everyone’s mind during the holiday season. If you feel overwhelmed, say something. If the thought of cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year makes you want to weep, ask if anyone would like to come early to help you in the kitchen. Or start a new tradition of a potluck Thanksgiving. Or let your new cousin-in-law host dinner at her house this year. It’s OK to let go of tradition. Be willing to express vulnerability and to ask for help. People will be there to support you.
Loneliness During the Holidays
Sometimes the holidays are difficult for obvious reasons.
Maybe you don’t like to admit it, but you really haven’t made friends since moving to a new city, and you can’t afford to travel back home this year. You’re bracing for a holiday spent in front of the TV, trying to convince yourself that it won’t bother you. But it will.
In such a circumstance, it’s important to recognize that you are not alone in being lonely. There are plenty of other people in your shoes. If you give yourself a little bit of time, you can actually make this work to your advantage. Find out if there are public Thanksgiving dinners, for example, where you can meet other people who are new to the city.
Also, be open to invitations. You might normally be OK with being a bit of a loner, but don’t intentionally isolate yourself during the holidays. If a coworker invites you to be part of their family’s celebration, throw caution to the wind and accept their kind offer. If you know that there are other students in your dorm who can’t go home for the holidays, try to organize a group party.
Finally, with the help of technology such as Skype, you might be able to enjoy your family’s presence after all, even if you do have to bake your own pumpkin pie.
Dealing With Loss During the Holidays
If you’ve experienced a devastating loss this year, the holidays are just another painful reminder of your loved one’s absence. You don’t see how it’s possible to be happy during these celebrations. In this case, it’s important to memorialize your loved one. Recognize them on that day. Share stories with loved ones. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room, because ignoring painful feelings is not a healthy way to process them.
There will be a noticeable void if the one who is gone was the main organizer of the celebration. You can decide to start an entirely new way of celebrating each year, or you can strive to preserve the tradition and legacy they left behind. Whatever you do, do not be lonely while coping with the loss of a loved one. You may not be in a celebratory mood, but be sure to surround yourself with friends and family this year more than ever.
And finally, a parting tip: When you’re stressed and worn thin trying to prepare for the holidays, it’s easy to ignore your overall health. Remember to take care of both your mind and body so that when the big day comes, you can enjoy it as much as possible.