Avoiding Holiday Depression
I’m sure you’re like the rest of us running around taking care of the final details of your upcoming holiday gatherings. Whether it’s the food, the shopping, or the travel (or all of the above), this is the season of stress when it should be, as the song says, “the most wonderful time of the year”.
What stresses you out? Identifying the causes and either mitigating them or avoiding them are the keys to a happy holiday season.
Perhaps you have set some high expectations and have painted a perfect picture in your mind of the perfect meal, the perfect family gathering, the best gifts under the tree, but then the reality of the day sets in. Unmet expectations are the biggest cause of any conflict in life, but the holidays can tend to make them seem that much worse — especially for those with depression.
As families grow and people move, the traditions you once held dearly may change. Just because they are different, doesn’t mean that they are wrong or bad. Being flexible and willing to compromise will make the season brighter. Holiday are more than what or where you eat, or how many gifts are under the tree. Learn to cherish the time together and overlook the less important details.
Taking time for yourself is important to keeping your mood in check over the holidays. Yes, there’s shopping and baking, and cooking and cleaning. But, in between those things, it’s okay to take a nap, go for a run, or curl up and read a book.
Perhaps there’s a sore subject that seems to come up every year, or a new conflict in the family that may rear its ugly head. A good way to avoid the conflict is to prepare an exit strategy. Simply saying, “let’s talk about it another time” or now isn’t the time”, may help call attention to the setting in hopes that they will respect your response.Then leaving the room and offering help in the kitchen, or going to play with the kids is a good way to escape.
Helping those who are less fortunate is another way to overcome depression over the holidays. Being grateful for what you do have and not focusing on what you don’t have will help change your perspective. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, adopting a grandparent, or packing a box for Operation Christmas Child will help lift your spirits.
Organize a gift exchange with family and friends, or bake some goodies for your neighbors is a fun way to bring joy to others. This will reduce cost and reduce your stress at the same time!
Avoid Binge Drinking or Eating
Drinking a glass of red wine is a good way to wind down after a long, stressful day, but drinking in excess can be a problem. Drinking alcohol to deal with holiday stress and depression will certainly not help, and will only intensify your emotions and make you feel even worse. LImiting your alcohol intake to one or two drinks a day is a good rule of thumb. Do yourself a favor and leave a holiday party early if you don’t think you can stick to your limit.
Binge eating can have the same effect. You may want three slices of pecan pie, but trying sticking to one. You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth, and you won’t wind up with a stomach ache or the guilt associated with overeating.
Learn to Grieve
If you are mourning a loved one, talking about your feelings and not keeping them bottled up will help reduce your stress. Reaching out to support groups or friends who may have the same experience will help, too. It’s not uncommon to feel anger at the person for leaving you alone or feeling guilty for enjoying yourself during the holidays. It’s part of the healing process.
Exercise should be a priority over the holidays, not something to stop and then start again after the new year. Taking a brisk walk for 35 minutes five days a week, or 60 minutes three time a week, will help improve your mood and burn off those extra calories you are consuming.
Get Some Sleep
Studies have shown there is a link between sleep loss and depression, so it’s important to try and stick to your same sleep schedule during the holidays. Be careful about cutting back on sleep to get everything done. And, avoid big meals and physical activity within a few hours of bedtime.
Get Some Sunshine
Tired? Irritable? Feeling down? It may not be the stress of the holiday, but rather the lack of sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can be treated by taking long walks during daylight hours or exposure to a light box for about 30 minutes a day. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options.
If you do suffer from depression, please ask for help. Whether it’s a support group, a good friend, or a medical professional and a prescription for an anti-depressant, getting help is the first step to identifying and dealing with depression.