Coping with Depression During the Holidays
Last week, we talked about how anxiety can be especially troubling during the holidays, and ways to deal with it. This week, we’ll talk about a similar facet of mental illness during the holidays: depression.
Depression can suck, quite frankly. It drains your energy and makes you lose interest in the activities you love. And this time of year, it can be even more common, and more difficult to deal with. But understanding your depression, and figuring out ways to cope with it, are the first steps towards having a happier holiday season.
Much of what we discuss will be similar to what we talked about for anxiety last week, because the two can share many similarities. But there will also be some new information that is centered entirely around depression.
The first step to coping with your depression is to understand it. Depression doesn’t just mean feeling sad sometimes. It is an illness that affects your brain, and can cause a lack of energy, apathy, changes in mood and appetite, and yes, even sadness.
There are many reasons that depression can be worse around the holidays. For starters, there is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression. This tends to be most common in the colder months, and can cause an increase in depression symptoms.
The holidays can also be a stressful and anxiety-provoking time, both of which can make depression worse. And for many, there may be negative feelings associated with the holidays— anything from bad memories or dysfunctional families to trauma.
And of course, this year may be even harder. The Covid-19 pandemic is still very much affecting all of us, and it makes staying mentally healthy that much harder. In a time where we are all socially isolated and uncertain about the world around us, it makes sense for depression to pop up more.
Now that you know a little bit more about how and why depression can be worse around the holidays, let’s take a look at a few ways that you can cope.
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s for good reason: therapy works. And if you live with depression, talking to a therapist can be incredibly beneficial.
A therapist can give you someone to talk to and share your feelings with. They can also provide you with treatment options you might not have known existed. And most importantly, they can help you figure out coping mechanisms that work best for you.
If you have people in your life that you love and trust, now is a good time to ask them to be there for you. Inform them of what’s going on, and maybe of ways that they can help you.
Depression thrives in solitude. This is one way that it can differ heavily from anxiety. If you are all alone, you’re more likely to be pulled under by depression. So talking to others, and getting support from them, can help you cope better.
Keep taking your meds
If you are on medication to help manage your depression, now is not the time to stop it. The holidays are so full of stress and difficulty, it would be better to wait until a more stable time. So if you have been considering going off of your medication, wait until after the holidays, and of course talk to a professional before doing so.
Changing traditions is ok
Sometimes, holiday traditions can carry negative emotions for you. Or you just don’t feel up to doing traditions the way you used to. So it’s ok to change your traditions, this year especially.
Not only that, but don’t be afraid to create new traditions! Creating new holiday traditions gives you something to look forward to, and can be a source of good that you are creating for yourself, not others. Replacing old traditions that you don’t enjoy with new ones can really help you cope with your depression over the holidays.
Try not to forego healthy habits
When depression gets bad, it can be easy to let go of healthy habits. Trust me, I know. But maintaining these habits can actually really help alleviate symptoms of depression.
I’m not talking about eating or exercise here— although both of those can also be good for you. I’m talking about even smaller ways to take care of yourself. Personal hygiene, hydration, and a proper sleep schedule are all things that can be easy to let go of.
All parts of self care are important, but perhaps the best things you can do for yourself this holiday season are to stay hydrated and sleep well. Dehydration can cause lethargy, tiredness, and worsening of other depression symptoms. And not sleeping well can wear your body down, causing depression to be much worse.
Proper sleep and hydration are vital to coping with depression during the holidays. Continuing to practice self care, and small healthy practices, can really help you.
Try to avoid comparisons
Though it is something we so often do, comparing this holiday to past ones can actually be bad for you. You don’t want to get caught in a thought pattern of expecting bad things to happen— or, alternatively, being disappointed when things aren’t as good as you think they were in the past.
Avoiding comparisons to past holidays can really help, but it is hard to do. The best thing you can do is try to focus on the here and now, and on things that you are excited about. The less you think about past holiday seasons, the better.
For many people, alcohol is a given part of holiday celebrations. And there is nothing wrong with that. But if you deal with depression, or are on antidepressants, be careful with it.
Alcohol is a depressant. This means that it can counteract the effects of antidepressants, and make depression worse. And it can even interact with some meds in ways that can be harmful to you.
If you deal with heavy depression, avoiding alcohol altogether might be a good idea. However, it is different for every person. So consult a professional, like a psychiatrist or therapist, to see if it is safe for you to drink and if so, how much you can have.
This is perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself this holiday season. With depression, everything costs energy, and you have less energy to give. Brushing your teeth, making a sandwich, and other such small activities take energy. And large activities, like parties or complex dinners, take even more energy.
So this holiday season, be realistic with yourself. Know how much energy you have to give, and budget accordingly. Don’t try to push yourself too hard, and don’t forego self care to put energy elsewhere. If you are real with yourself from the start and don’t expect too much, you can avoid being disappointed later.
Having a jolly season
If you struggle with depression, the holidays may be a time of dread for you. But they don’t have to be. If you are realistic with yourself, continue self care, and get support from others, you can cope with your depression this season, and find ways to still have a fun time. And if it doesn’t turn out that great, that’s ok too.
Do you have other ways you cope with depression this time of year? Are you especially excited for the holidays? Let us know by leaving a comment below, or sharing this on social media with your response!