A Holiday Survival Guide for People with Depression

By Jenni Deming

snow globeImagine a snow globe. Everything is hand-painted perfection. There are snowy evergreens, quaint cottages and smiling families ice-skating in sync. When you shake it up, flecks of glitter dance around in a silvery swirl. There’s even music playing.

It’s a slice of holiday heaven.

Now imagine another snow globe. Only this time, everything is made of cheap plastic (read: the kind you find at a gas station). The streets are caked with mud, the trees are bare and the people look straight out of Les Miserables. When you shake it up, black oil covers everything like a gloomy lava lamp. Yeah, and no music.

It’s … uh … not so heavenly.

If you’re suffering from clinical depression during this so-called joyous season, life can feel pretty bleak. While everyone around you seems to be living in the first snow globe, you feel trapped in the second. Buying presents, cooking feasts and visiting relatives don’t rank high on your holiday fun list. Most days, you’re just trying to keep your eyes open and your body out of bed.

“The most wonderful time of the year” can be the hardest time of year for you and many other people. And your friends and family may not even realize how much you’re struggling. You don’t want to put a damper on their experience, but it can be hard to fully participate as well. We get it.

Holiday Triggers and Heartaches

The holidays can trigger some difficult emotions for people suffering from depression. And almost anything can set off your sadness: parties full of happy people, families on Christmas cards, sappy songs, social media posts, TV parades, the smell of gingerbread.

There are countless life circumstances that can worsen your depression as well. Maybe you just went through a divorce. Or someone you love passed away. Maybe your son or daughter recently deployed, and you can’t imagine the season without them. Or perhaps you lost a job, house or favorite pet.

Whatever it is, we know it’s difficult. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid everything that might hurt you this season. You can find ways to get through the holidays without coming unhinged. The key is to be extremely kind to yourself and communicate with others when you can.

Here are some helpful tips to make it through the holidays with depression:

  1. Check in with yourself. We don’t listen to ourselves enough — especially when the red-and-green universe is conspiring against us. Before you head for another store or party this season, stop and ask yourself, Do I really feel up to this right now? If the answer is no, don’t do it. It’s okay to take care of yourself first. Give yourself some grace.
  1. Pick a family tradition (or two). If you have kids, you’ll want to do some celebrating, of course. But don’t overcommit. Ask your kids what their favorite holiday traditions are and focus your energy on a few easy activities. There’s no need to run yourself ragged trying to keep everyone entertained. They’ll be just fine with fewer Elf on the Shelf sightings.
  1. Practice staycationing. Plan most of your holiday happenings around the house. Decorate with the family, ask the kids to think up some games, light a warm fire and organize a few movie nights. Keep it as homey and homemade as possible.
  1. Skip social media. Don’t torture yourself with over-the-top social posts. Your friends may really be happy or they may really be stressed. Either way, scrolling through countless selfies won’t make you feel any better. Use your social media-free time to get cozy and check some books off your reading list.
  1. See your counselor. If you visit a therapist regularly, don’t skip a session because of the holidays. Rearrange your schedule if you have to, or ask if you can have a Skype session instead. If you feel like your depression is worsening, see your doctor as soon as possible to talk about your medication. Make your mental health a top priority.
  1. Retreat when you can. This can’t be said enough. When you’re depressed, it’s good to get out of the house and mingle, but too much small talk will drain you and leave you with a chit chat hangover. Have a signal worked out with your spouse or friend, and when you’re ready to leave a gathering, just leave. Or drive in separate cars and use an excuse about relieving the sitter or taking the dog out. It’s okay to recharge alone.
  1. Keep away from “those people.” Some people aren’t safe to be around when you’re depressed. Maybe it’s your critical grandpa or your rude sister or your never-stops-gossiping friend. Whoever it is, try to avoid being near them right now. You aren’t equipped to handle their lack of tact, and that’s okay.
  1. Put down the cocktail. Alcohol is ever-present during the holidays, and it’s tempting to join the revelry. But depression and alcohol tend to be a bad combo. Restrict yourself to one glass of wine or one beer and nurse it throughout your meal. Or try to avoid it altogether. If someone asks why you’re not drinking, tell them you’re saving those empty calories for dessert.

This Season Won’t Last Forever

While it may seem like the holiday season will last forever, the truth is the hype will be over before you know it. In short order, people will be ringing in the New Year, heading back to work, and (thankfully) way too tired to bother you for a while. There is a silver lining, and  it sure beats an oily snow globe.


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