We all know the holidays are generally a happy-go-lucky, celebratory time of the year where family and friends get together to celebrate, but for many people, it can be a dark and painful time.
Depression, anxiety or sadness around the holidays can occur for a number of reasons.
In some cases, it’s connected to major shifts in one’s personal life, including negative family relations, the loss of loved ones or not having anyone with whom you can celebrate.
It can also be related to the stresses and demands of the holiday season, including hosting large groups or spending money that you don’t necessarily have.
It could even be seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs when the days are shorter and there is less sunlight during the fall and winter.
Either way you slice it, depression around the holidays, also commonly referred to as the holiday blues, can be a very discouraging, lonely experience.
If you or someone around you is dealing with this, there are a number of ways you can find relief.
Dealing Holiday Pressures
Do you feel like it’s all up to you to clean your house?
Go shopping for a big dinner?
Prepare the big dinner?
Get gifts for family, friends and associates?
How about racking up huge debts on your credit cards? Attend endless gatherings and parties?
This kind of stress induced anxiety is all too real and common, but it’s also an issues that is comparatively easier to resolve.
You don’t have to attend every event you’re invited to or meet every request that is made of you. While you don’t want to disappoint anyone, your friends and family understand that you are human and may need a little breathing room.
Divvy Up Responsibilities
Write out of a list of all the things you hope to accomplish. If anything in particular gives you tons of stress, consider asking your spouse, siblings, children or friends to help you out with tasks the shopping list, meal prep, etc.
Put a Cap on Spending
It’s way too easy to overspend during the holidays as you try to provide the people around you with a positive experience. The fact is no one should voluntarily put themselves in a financial bind. Write out a figure that you can realistically afford to spend this holiday season. Then write a list of all the things you want to buy or do.
The idea here is to figure out what takes priority and what will need to be left on the chopping block.
For example, if gifts are sending you over budget, shave off some people on your pricey gift list and replace their store bought gifts with a heartfelt Christmas card and some homemade cookies or holiday treats. As an alternative, you can keep everybody on your list, but put an extremely tight budget on each gift and ask that no one spend over $X dollars on gift exchanges.
Dealing with Seasonal Disorders
If seasonal affective disorder is bringing you down, there are a number of ways to help you feel better. Give yourself regular exposure to very bright light, like fluorescent light. According to Harvard University’s Medical blog, exposure to light, called phototherapy may reverse the condition.
Light therapy sessions typically last for 30 minutes at a time.
Going outside for a 30-minute walk can also help, whether it’s sunny outside or not.
Another wonderful way to deal with SAD during the holidays would be vacationing in a sunny Caribbean island on Christmas, for example. It would be a great change of pace and and quite the adventure if you’ve never done something like that before.
Problematic families, feelings of loneliness or disconnect
Experiencing the loss of a loved one or feeling disconnected from a community can be very depressing, especially during the holidays, when society is focused on togetherness.
Anyone going through these feelings shouldn’t just suffer in silence.
Avoid drinking, as it may intensify feelings of depression. You don’t want to drown your feelings, you want to address them. Look into joining a support group. Speaking to others who are going through something similar will always make you feel better understood and not alone.
Look for groups in your city or browse resources like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Also consider speaking with a counselor to help you get perspective about what you’re going through.
Be sure to do things you enjoy to reduce your stress, like playing sports, getting pampering or spending time with someone you care about. If you don’t want to be around people during the holiday, incorporate some fun solo activities into your day, including visiting a museum, watching a couple movies at the theater or having a spa day---anything that gives you peace and joy.
Consider volunteering. A paper published by the University of Exeter Medical School in Exeter, UK reviewed 40 volunteer studies conducted over the course of 20 years and found people who volunteered had lower instances of depression and an increased well-being. Volunteering also fuels feelings of self worth as you provide services to people who need it. It’s also a great way to connect to other positive people who value giving back. In order for it to be effective however, you must volunteer for a cause or a group that you genuinely care about.
While these suggestions have been shown to help with issues related to depression, some cases are more severe than others.
If you feel completely overwhelmed by your depression, schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist and explore options for antidepressant medications, including serotonin selective inhibitor medications like Prozac or Zoloft.
Whatever you do, remember that you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to accept a sad, boring holiday.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to let go of perfection, and schedule some time for yourself. That may mean taking the time for a bubble bath, a massage, escaping to a quiet room or running an errand to get away if need be.
Approach the holiday season with the resolve to make it one of the best holidays yet, and it will be.