by Kahlia Meeuwsen, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 4th December, 2018
Depression can be a sneaky foe during the holiday season, and it can be one that really takes away from our holiday experiences with our loved ones. In addition, we can often be left emotionally exhausted and feeling badly about ourselves and our choices.
However, there are tools that you can use to avoid holiday depression, or at least lessen the degree to which it effects you. We're going to discuss holiday depression, as well as the triggers and imbalances that can cause it. We'll also take a look at some tips you can use to keep yourself in good spirits this holiday season.
Depression is hard all year long, but the holidays can bring about added stress, anxiety and situations that can allow depression to build up and rob us of the joy we're supposed to feel during the holidays. There can also be a number of reasons why this happens, which are different for each person.
Whether it's event planning, financial concerns, or stress regarding family, there are many of us who can be more susceptible to depression during the holiday season. However, that doesn't mean that we're trapped and unable to experience all of the joys the holidays have to offer forever.
This is also the time of year when we can be known to set high expectations for ourselves, which might go beyond what we can feasibly offer. That said, we can beat these expectations and stressors!
The holidays often contain many of the same triggers that we experience in day to day life, but in a greater abundance. With all the events to go to, food to cook and gifts to be given, we can become worn down much more quickly than we might during the rest of the year.
A few of the triggers that can cause issues during the holiday season are stress, exhaustion, financial concerns, either difficult family members or the inability to be with family for the holidays, expectations of perfection or anxiety about the ending of another year.
We can also find that during the holidays, we are more susceptible to overeating, drinking too much, losing out on precious sleep or simply being pulled at all sides. These things can weaken our resolve, and make it easier for depression-driven thoughts to invade our minds.
There is a certain balance that we can keep for the most part throughout the year, but seems to fall apart with the arrival of the winter holidays. These can include eating healthfully, limiting alcohol use, spending and the amount of self care we engage in on a regular basis.
While in the moment, bingeing on candy or desserts can be enjoyable, it can often leave us feeling badly about ourselves. On top of that, excessive consumption of sweets or alcohol can leave lasting damage on our bodies. So while it can be fun to indulge, it should be enjoyed in moderation.
For those with a more introverted nature, a higher amount of time spent socializing with friends or family can be exhausting. Through this emotional wearing-down, we can start to lose our ability to be positive and in-the-moment. This is especially true if you tend to be on the empathetic side as well, which can cause social energy to drain more quickly in certain situations.
When it comes to the holidays, self care can easily end up on the back burner while we're trying to make everything perfect for our family and friends. However, that can also lead to a depression that can really rob you of your ability to enjoy the events. Instead, take a look through these tips and make use of the ones that will give you the most peace this holiday season.
It's always important to be gentle with yourself, but this can become even harder with all the expectations and commitments that come with the holiday season. At the same time, it's because of these new additions that being gentle becomes even more important to your health.
Remember that if you're becoming stressed, anxious or you feel depression starting to creep in, your body is letting you know that it's time to slow down or even take a break. Don't be ashamed when you need to cut back on commitments or give yourself some time for self care.
It's also important to catch when you notice the negative thought processes beginning and to stop them as soon as possible. Otherwise, they can quickly snowball into a depression that can keep you from enjoying the holiday at all. Take deep breaths, and do what you need to keep your mental health soaring.
Many of us want to make this holiday the "best one ever", meaning we want to go above and beyond to make it impressive and wonderful for our family members. This can be particularly true if you're the one hosting the holiday. However, this thinking can do more damage than good.
Consider what you can do with the time you have, without driving yourself crazy. Think about what your strengths and weaknesses are, and try to embellish the strengths rather than expect perfection from something that you may struggle with even on a regular day.
For example, if cooking isn't your strength then either enlist help or try to stick to things you know you can do well. At the same time, if you're fantastic at decorating or wrapping presents, then take on those tasks and enjoy doing them. The holidays aren't a time to punish yourself for imperfections!
When our brains become tired, they can be more vulnerable to negative thoughts. So make sure that you take breaks often enough to be able to enjoy what you're doing and keep both your body and mind refreshed. That way, you can avoid becoming miserable in your tasks.
To do this well, it's wise to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions. When you notice that you're getting frazzled, frustrated or cranky, step away. Take a hot bath, enjoy some peace and quiet, an activity that relaxes you or simply put the rest of the work off until the next day.
Most importantly, remember that it's better to do less and enjoy it than to do more and make yourself miserable. In most cases, family members will just be happy being together for the holidays. In addition, don't forget that some family members will be more than willing to help you out if you need it.
Rather than resting a lot of weight on one or two days throughout the season, spreading it out can help to keep you from becoming overworked and overtired. This can also be a great way to ensure the whole season is exciting for you and your family, rather than just waiting for those few days.
Keep in mind that this doesn't mean stressing yourself out to make every day extra special, but instead either doing smaller events spread out through the season or just doing smaller special things and starting sooner rather than pushing it all off to one or two days.
For example, if you tend to go all out with decorations, then maybe consider adding just one or two decorations per day. This builds up to the full decor by whatever your chosen holiday is, and it makes the whole process much less stressful. In addition, anything else you can break down into smaller chunks over a longer period will be helpful!
Rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the next day, the next event or even the next year, try to remain in the moment and enjoy what's going on. If you're at an event, try to stay with those around you. Have conversations, find things to be grateful and be mindful when your brain tries to look for depressing or anxiety-inducing thoughts.
There is a simple kind of meditation that can help to remind you to slow down and be more present, and it can take a minute or two, or even just a few seconds if that's all you have. For whatever time is available, just focus on your breathing. Say to yourself "in" or "out" in respect to whether you're inhaling or exhaling. Don't worry about your mind traveling. It can go anywhere it wants as long as you focus on the breath.
It can also help to think about what you like or enjoy about that moment. Maybe it's the decorations, maybe it's the way Aunt June can always find something to laugh about. It can be anything at all, just remind yourself that there is beauty in this moment, and to enjoy it as best you can.
Comparisons can become so tempting during the holiday season, in a number of ways. We can find ourselves comparing this holiday even to past ones, in hopes that it measures up. Or we can find ourselves comparing our lives to those of our relatives.
This is truly a recipe for depression to come in. It's going to search hard for reasons why this holiday doesn't measure up to others, but that's only going to make you feel badly. When you notice this thinking, it's a good idea to find a way to distract yourself, or gently remind yourself of the positive aspects of the event.
At any time of the year, comparing our lives to others can be highly damaging to our mental and emotional health. If you catch yourself comparing your life to that of someone who seems more successful, gently hit the pause button and remind yourself of what you're grateful for in your life.
As mentioned earlier in the article, there are a number of ways in which we can become imbalanced during the holidays. They are often a time for indulgence, which means that things like candy and other foods as well as alcohol tend to flow. While these things might be tempting, they can leave you feeling worse.
That's not to say that you shouldn't indulge a little for the holiday season, if you want to. However, just make sure that you keep things in moderation, especially if you know they may trigger depression-related emotions.
Decide before events what your limits are for certain indulgences. Maybe you'll only have one alcoholic beverage at an event, or maybe you want to limit overeating, or eating sweets to only at the events, or only in certain amounts. Just make sure it's something realistic and doable without feeling like you're punishing yourself.
Lacking vitamin D can really have an effect on how well we're feeling. This is especially true for those who experience Seasonal Effective Disorder. Consequently, it's going to become more important that you make sure you're getting enough vitamin D.
If you live in an area where you might get a few cold, but sunny days during the winter season, make sure to get out for just a little bit to enjoy some sunlight. Otherwise, vitamin D supplements can be very helpful in making sure that your levels of the vitamin stay balanced.
This can be a tricky one, because sometimes we may have triggers we haven't quite discovered yet. However, the more of your triggers you're familiar with, the easier you can avoid them. As a result, your holiday season can go a lot more smoothly.
What many may not realize is that triggers can be just about anything, depending on the person and their experiences. Someone who has experienced verbal abuse may find that they become uncomfortable around loud voices, whether they are angry in tone or not. For others, it may be as simple as certain smells, traditions or even sights.
While you may not be able to stop the family from serving a certain food, or engaging in a certain tradition, you can protect yourself from it. Excuse yourself during the tradition, or try to stay away from areas where certain smells are more present. Whatever it is you need to do, it's worthwhile to keep yourself feeling safe and happy.
If the triggers rest in the behaviors or words of others, it can also help to have strategies ready to disengage when those things occur. Don't be afraid to step away from an area or conversation if it's making you uncomfortable.
When you have a clear idea of what you can and cannot do, and how many commitments you can make, make sure you set your boundaries. Don't allow people to push more onto you than you can handle, and find ways to graciously decline invites or tasks that people may request.
One important aspect that we can often forget is that this also applies to topics of conversation during holiday events. If there are things you don't want to talk about, you don't have to. In the same vein, if a conversation turns critical or invasive, feel free to disengage and step away from it.
These things are easy to say, but hard to do. Some of us are people-pleasers and others don't want to risk being rude to family members. It can really help to have some go-to replies on hand so that you don't have to think of a way to disengage on the spot.
We all have some family members who are a bit more difficult than others. They can also exist on a spectrum. Some can be loud and perhaps thoughtless when it comes to what they say, but are ultimately more of an annoyance than a harm. Meanwhile, others can be damaging to our mental, emotional and sometimes even physical health.
When it comes to these family members, remember that your health and wellbeing are more important than being polite or giving them their way. It can help to have methods on hand to cease conversations with them, or to have others around who are positive, and who you know will look out for you if needed.
If you are concerned that difficult family members may cause you any kind of harm, it is better to avoid them altogether than to try to force yourself to attend an event and be miserable due to their presence.
Planning ahead is a great way to arm yourself with a better ability to handle the kinds of situations that might pop up during events. This can include everything from bringing along snacks to making plans to address it if depression should rear its ugly head.
In doing this, it's a good idea to think about what would be most helpful for you in various situations. Maybe you'll need to be able to go into a quiet room and collect yourself for a few minutes, or even sit in your car if you want a little more privacy.
If you have close families attending these events with you, like a partner or children, it can help to involve them in the planning too. That way, you can all look out for one another and make sure everyone's needs are addressed.
It can be so easy to lose sleep around the holidays due to being busy or attending holiday events that run late. However, a lack of sleep can make it much easier for us to become stressed and frazzled. In addition to that, or tired minds can become more vulnerable to negative thinking, which many of us know can quickly send us into depression.
As much as you can, try to keep a regular sleep schedule. At the very least, try to ensure that you're able to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, as this is what is recommended for adults. Furthermore, it can be a good idea to pay attention to your sleep cycles and try to wake up with them naturally. When we're awoken in the middle of a cycle, we can be left feeling more groggy and unpleasant.
For some, asking for help can be an extremely difficult thing to do. We worry that it presents a weakness, or that we're troubling others by asking for their assistance. However, you're most likely to find that people are happy to help you out when you ask for it.
So if you're planning a holiday event and it's beginning to cause you stress, find out if other family members will be willing to cover certain aspects of the event, like food, decoration or drinks. Even if it's just a small aspect that can make the holiday a little easier for you, don't be afraid to ask.
If you can do this during the planning phase rather than the last minute, you can even avoid the stress of trying to handle it all yourself and realizing it's just too much. Instead, you'll have less to worry about, which means you can enjoy the preparation a little more.
Before presents, before events, before the wants of family and friends, your health is most important. As a result, if an event or person is exhausting you, causing you stress or building up to depression, then make sure to have backup plans in place to give you peace of mind. Even if that backup plan means skipping some aspect altogether.
Remember that a holiday isn't going to be as enjoyable if you're too tired or stressed to really appreciate what's going on around you. The holidays are a time for enjoying time with family and friends, and holiday depression can really get in the way of that.
As you're preparing to go into the holidays, don't forget self care. Allow yourself breaks, time for relaxing activities and plenty of sleep. That way, you'll be able to enjoy the holidays to the very fullest extent possible.