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Navigating the Holiday Season With Depression

Posted on October 28, 2019

Living with depression may make it difficult to find joy during the holidays, but there are things you can do to still have meaningful celebrations. Although depression may make some holiday traditions challenging, it doesn't mean you can't benefit from connecting with friends, family, or community members during the holiday season. By communicating your limitations due to depression, being flexible, and adjusting your expectations, you can help create a positive holiday experience.

Communicate Your Needs
Let your loved ones know that connecting with them over the holidays is as important as ever to you, but depression is making it hard to plan as usual. The holidays can add stress, worsening your depression. You need to put your mental health first.

  • Don't be afraid to say no.
  • It can help to use direct "I" statements. For instance, "I am not feeling well enough to host this year" is better than "Having everyone over is just too stressful." Communicating in this way makes your needs clear without making others feel accused or burdensome.
  • Even if you usually maintain healthy boundaries, the holidays are a time when they may be tested. If a friend or family member tries to make you feel guilty for setting your boundaries, gently remind them that depression doesn't take the holidays off, as much as you wish it did.

Be Flexible
Instead of saying "no," say "yes" to something else. If a family tradition no longer works for you, it may be time to suggest an update.

  • If you can't travel as usual, consider offering to host. Ask others to bring potluck dishes and help clean up so you don't wind up overdoing it.
  • If you usually host the gathering but can't do it this year, encourage someone else to host instead. They may be delighted to welcome everyone to their home for a change.
  • If you always bring a beloved dish, pass the treasured recipe on to a loved one like you would a family heirloom, or shine the limelight on another chef in the family and invite them to bring their favorite dish.
  • If you can't bring yourself to give up the party, think of ways to save time and energy. Use paper plates, plastic flatware, and disposable tablecloths for easy cleanup. Make decorating (or de-decorating) part of the event and get everyone to help. Plan a low-impact meal such as a stew that simmers all day in the crock pot with little prep work or tending.
  • If attending a large family gathering puts you in contact with people who trigger negative emotions, consider inviting a few loved ones to an alternate activity, like a small meal at your home or a trip to the local coffee shop.
  • If you'd prefer to skip the big family dinner, think about volunteering at a soup kitchen or attending a community celebration instead. Both options ensure you have the opportunity to connect with others on special days and help prevent the loneliness that can come from missing a family event.

If you'd like to connect with family, but can't get together in one place this year, consider using a video chat service such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to have a special holiday call on a smartphone or laptop. During a video chat, you can:

  • Watch family open gifts
  • Have them show you the decorations around the house
  • Read a holiday story or poem to the children
  • Sing favorite holiday songs together

General Tips to Improve Mood Over the Holidays
Many people with depression experience lower mood over the holidays and dark winter months. There are a few steps you can take that may help.

  • About 5 percent of people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which contributes to depression and fatigue during the fall and winter months. If you know or suspect you have SAD, try to go outside and get some sunlight each day and consider purchasing a light box for phototherapy.
  • Limit or avoid consumption of alcohol over the holidays. Drinking alcohol can contribute to or worsen depression, and depression can contribute to alcohol abuse in a cycle. Alcohol can also worsen side effects of some antidepressant medications. Toast with sparkling juice, flavored seltzer, or a festive nonalcoholic punch instead.
  • Try not to let the holidays interrupt your sleep schedule. Keep your bedroom dark and peaceful, and maintain your regular bedtime routine as much as possible.

Adjust Your Expectations
Even without depression, holidays often come with high expectations that lead to disappointment and stress. Letting go of the illusion of a "perfect" holiday can help you keep expectations realistic and focus on what's most important about the holidays. For many people, that means connecting with loved ones, being thankful for what you have, and finding hope for the new year.

Here are some mindful tips from Johns Hopkins Medicine for adjusting holiday expectations:

  • Accept that your holidays won't be perfect and will be different from celebrations in years past.
  • Focus on what really counts. Find things to be grateful for and look for new ways to connect with loved ones.
  • If you get into a conflict with someone over the holidays, take a few breaths before you react. Try to stay compassionate and react with kindness.
  • As you reflect on last year, be kind to yourself and let go of any negativity. As you look forward to next year, make smaller, gradual resolutions rather than huge goals that will be difficult to achieve.

During the holidays and year-round, the members of MyDepressionTeam are here for each other. Joining MyDepressionTeam means gaining a support group of thousands of others with depression who understand exactly what you're going through.

Here are some conversations from MyDepressionTeam members about navigating the holiday season with depression:

Have you found ways to celebrate the holidays despite depression? Share in the comments below or post on MyDepressionTeam.

Posted on October 28, 2019
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