Depression and the Holidays – A Survival Guide
By Diane Cerven, LPCC
In the last post, we talked about anxiety and the holidays. This time, I want to really focus in on depression. During this time of year, we have the change of seasons, cloudy days and less daylight. We may find ourselves huddled inside with the things of summer long past. Many people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) depression during winter, or even SAD compounding depression symptoms that are felt year around. This is a hard time of year. Then we add the holidays and their obligations.
Depression affects people in different ways, symptoms can include: loss of energy, loss of desire to do things that had been fun or interesting in the past, feeling sad and hopeless, feeling worthless, concentration and decisions making problems and more. It can be a lot to handle during this time of year with added things to do, people to care for, and responsibilities to take care of. How do you take care of yourself, not let depression ruin the holidays, and come through it all with some mental health?
For those with severe depression, counseling can be helpful. With your counselor, you can work on negative self talk, motivation, and working through situations that have compounded or even caused your depressive episode. What to do outside the counseling session is what I’m going to try and help you with in this article.
Set Realistic Expectations
We can’t expect ourselves to do everything that is presented at this time of year. There is just too much. Make a list or put on the calendar the expectations, then go through them. What is it you want to do, you really should do, and then cross out the ones that are just added stress. Go back through the list and really look at the “shoulds”. The activities that you know you need to do, keep those. Cross off the “shoulds” that are just expectations and may disappoint others if you don’t do, but are too much or something you don’t want to do. It’s ok to do that.
If you’re getting a little too “cross off happy” (i.e. depression tells you to do little to nothing this year), stop and think it through. Don’t just follow depression symptoms like they’re the boss; kick that cognitive brain into gear.
- If you’re feeling lonely, spend time with others (put that on the list). Choose those who are healthy in your life.
- If you’re grieving, do something that will honor the person you lost, especially with loved ones (put that on the list).
- If your just not interested in anything, push yourself to do something you’ve done in the past that has felt good (like lighting of the community Christmas tree and caroling).
Self-Care for Depression
Take care of yourself during the holiday season. Self-care is vitally important when the season gets more stressful.
- Rest when you need it – Make sure to get your regular amount of sleep, preferably going to bed at the same time as the rest of the year.
- Eat healthy foods – Yes, there are a lot of sweets and high fat foods. You can have some, but limit the amount and eat normal healthy meals and snacks. The change in diet to a high fat and high sugar foods can affects our physical and mental health.
- Be moderate or sparing with alcohol. If you’re on mental health medications, most indicate not to drink with them. Alcohol changes our brain functioning. Be aware and if you choose to have some, only a little bit. A healthy liver can process about one drink an hour (a beer, a shot of hard liquor, about 5 oz of wine). Alcohol can still be detected in your system though; don’t forget to have a designated driver to stay safe. That’s important self-care.
- Relaxation is important every day, but especially in stressful times.
- Do passive relaxation daily, like reading a book, taking a bath, playing with your dog or cat, playing games, listening to music, playing music, watching the fire (online if you don’t have one) or limit screen time because what we watch is stimulating. This is choosing something you find peaceful.
- Do active relaxation as well. There are many relaxation apps, YouTube has so many relaxation videos you could do a new one every day. I recommend keeping a link to the ones you find you like. There are several different kinds: progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, breathing meditation, guided imagery, stretching, meditation, etc. Anything that causes your muscles and mind to relax, letting the tension go.
Good self-care this time of year will go a long way toward helping your depression and anxiety symptoms.
Other Self-Care Ideas
Here are some other options to help your mental health:
- Set Boundaries – I talked about this in the last article with anxiety and the holidays and specifically about boundaries here.
- Get a SAD lamp. These emit light that wakes up our brains and deter the effects of the shortened and gloomy days.
- Ask your doctor about your vitamin D levels. These can lower with less sunlight as vitamin D is converted from sunlight in our skin.
- While at the doctors also have them check your thyroid levels as low thyroid causes depression symptoms.
- Set aside differences with family and friends. Enjoy the day(s) without getting depressed about the past.
- Make a tradition of relaxation and fun with the family. You don’t have to have a large celebration with all the glitz and glam, you only need to be together and doing things together. That’s what people remember, the love and care you show each other.
The most important thing is to know and set your limits. Push yourself to do the activities you know you’ll be disappointed if you miss. Skip the ones that are just stressful. You can make it through and manage depression over the holidays.
What’s the Next Step?
You are important and so is your mental health. If you need more help, we’re here for you. To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids) or 218-444-2233 (Bemidji). For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office or Thursday in Bemidji. Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling. Please check out our staff bios.
Diane Cerven, LPCC