Fighting Depression during the Holidays
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Fighting Depression during the Holidays

Are you fighting depression?  Feeling down during the holidays can be tough, especially since you seem so out of step with the world. Everyone else seems to be beaming, ruddy-cheeked, bursting with holiday spirit. You’re feeling wretched and exhausted. You don’t feel like getting out of bed, yet alone spreading holiday cheer.

But here’s something to cheer you up the next time you’re stuck in a room of revelers at a holiday party: Plenty of them are probably unhappy, too. You are not alone; many people suffer from depression around the holidays.  Despite appearance many people struggle every year with the stress of the holidays.  Holiday memories of past losses, financial worries, family conflict, loneliness and isolation can all contribute to the stress and depression during this time of year.

"When there's a loss or a change in our lives, our traditions must change -- and that's hard because we will miss our favorite things," noted Rauch, author of Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent Is Sick.  "People do well to anticipate how changes will affect those traditions. It's very important to be open to new traditions. Take the best of the old, borrow from new people in your life, and create new traditions." 

So if the family gatherings, the endless parties, and the shopping get you down, you’re hardly alone. People think they should be happy all the time, but that is an unrealistic expectation for life," Lewis tells WebMD. "Life is much more complex than that. If we can welcome the full range of emotional experience as part of a normal, healthy life, it takes some of the misery out of normal unhappiness and grief. But people with depression -- or who have had depression in the past -- need to be especially careful when coping with holiday stress. While it might take some conscious effort on your part, you can reduce stress -- and maybe even find some holiday joy, too. Here are some tips to help bring some joy to your holiday and prevent depression;

  1. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel.  Let go of perfection and concerns with making everyone happy.  If you’re comparing your holidays to some abstract greeting card ideal, they’ll always come up short. So don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come.
  2. Do something different. This year, does the prospect of the usual routine fill you with holiday dread rather than holiday joy? If so, don’t surrender to it. Try something different and get out of your comfort zone.  You might start a wonderful new family tradition.  Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant. Spend Christmas day at the movie theater. Get your family to agree to skip gifts and instead donate the money to a charity.
  3. Lean on your support system. If you’ve been depressed, you need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough says David Shern, PhD, president and CEO of Mental Health America in Alexandria, Va. So during the holidays, take time to get together with your support team regularly -- or at least keep in touch by phone to keep you centered.  Volunteer or attend religious services where you can interact socially.
  4. Don’t assume the worst. “I think some people go into the holidays with expectations so low that it makes them more depressed,” says Duckworth. So don’t start the holiday season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the holidays as they come and limit your expectations -- both good and bad -- you may enjoy them more.  Let go of past grudges and disputes. Put the past in the past. However, limit your contact with people who tend to trigger your negative responses.  
  5. 5. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to holiday tradition. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof this year? So what if you don’t get the special Christmas mugs from the crawl space? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your holiday spirit.  Remember trying to make the holiday perfect will only add to your stress and discomfort.
  6. Head off problems. Think about what people or situations trigger your holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them. If seeing your uncle stresses you out, skip his New Year’s party and just stop by for a quick hello on New Year’s Day. Instead of staying in your bleak, childhood bedroom at your stepfather’s house, check into a nearby hotel. You really have more control than you think.  You can make good choices and improve your overall enjoyment during the season and year around.
  7. Ask for help -- but be specific. See if your spouse will lug out the decorations and put up the tree, ask your sister to help you cook or host the holiday dinner itself. If you don’t ask for help and make specific requests then other may assume that you don’t need or want their help.  Invite a friend along on shopping trips and make it enjoyable.  People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.
  8. 9. Don’t worry about things beyond your control. So your uncle and your dad get into a fight every holiday dinner and it makes you miserable.  That is not about you. Remember your limits. You can’t control them. But you can control your own reaction to the situation.  Don’t let yourself be drawn into things you cannot control and cause you added stress. Let it go.
  9. Make new family traditions. People often feel compelled to keep family holiday traditions alive long past the point that anyone’s actually enjoying them. Don’t keep them going for their own sake.  Simply because you have done something one way does not make it the only way.  Someone may object and be resistant to change, so give other the opportunity to have input in creating new traditions.  For example, you have always had an evening meal but have found that the children are tired and the adults are cranky, restless and ready to call it a day.  Often the younger generation would enjoy making changes that fit better with their schedules, finances and life style.  Don’t get stuck in a tradition that doesn’t fit with your family today.  “Start a new holiday tradition instead,” says Gloria Pope, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago. “Create one that’s more meaningful to you personally.”
  10. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Holidays may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. But instead of just feeling glum, do something active to celebrate their memory. For instance, go out with your sisters to your mom’s favorite restaurant and give her a toast.  Sit down and go through family photos together or watch your loved ones favorite movie, prepare their favorite dish or spend time sharing funny memories.
  11. Don’t overbook. The holidays last for several weeks.  You really need to pace yourself or you’ll get overwhelmed.  So don’t say yes to every invitation willy-nilly. Think about which parties and you can fit in -- and which ones you really want to attend.  Don’t say yes out of obligation.  Most people are busy and your good friends will understand if you have other commitments or feel you need family time. 
  12. Don’t stay longer than you want.  Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the bitter end. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain you have other engagements. The hosts will understand that it’s a busy time of year and appreciate your effort. Knowing you have a plan to leave can really ease your anxiety and you will get more downtime so you will have more energy to tackle other activities.
  13. Have a partner for the party. If the prospect of an office party is causing holiday stress, talk to a friend and arrange to arrive and leave together. However, asked yourself why you feel stressed and if you are creating unrealistic expectations for yourself?  You may feel much better knowing you have an ally and a plan of escape or just have someone you can relax with at the party.
  14. Forget about the perfect gift.  Many times we put too much emphasis on gift giving and lose the reasons for the holidays.  Often we spend more than we are comfortable doing because we are trying to make others happy.  Parents do this often with their children. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, now is not the time to fret about finding the absolute best gift ever for your mother, great aunt or your mailman. Remember: everybody likes a gift certificate and it is the thoughts that count.
  15. Shop online. Save yourself the inconvenience, the crowds, and the horrors of the mall parking lot by doing the bulk of your shopping online.  However, remember that you have a budget.  It can also save to have things mailed directly.
  16. Stick to a budget.  As previously mentioned, keep your budget in mind.  The cost of holiday shopping mounts quickly and can make people feel out of control and anxious. So draw up a budget long before you actually start your shopping and stick to it.  When thinking about past holidays, are you still paying for overspending last year?  This creates stress all year long by saddling you with large credit card debt.
  17. Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays.  This is especially important if you have children.  There is so much activity and anticipation that children can become overwhelmed.  They get tired but don’t want to go to bed because they fear missing something.  Adults tend to do the same thing.  Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t pull an all-nighter wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your child and your mood deteriorate.
  18.  Exercise. While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise during the holidays, the benefits are worth it. “We know that exercise has a pretty strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect,” says Duckworth. You can work physical activity into your errands. When you’re shopping, take a few extra laps around the mall. Walk your Christmas cards to the post office instead of driving.  Exercise will not only help to burn off those extra calories but it will reduce stress and improve your mood.
  19. Eat sensibly. When you’re facing a dozen holiday parties and family gatherings between now and New Year’s, it’s hard to stay committed to a sensible diet. But try. There are so many temping treats and in addition you may have more alcohol served than usual.  Eating healthy may keep you feeling better -- physically and emotionally. On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up if you go overboard on the cookie platter in the break room. It’s not a big deal. Just get back on track the next day.
  20.  Don’t rely on holiday spirits (or other substances.) “The holidays are a time of heavy drinking,” says Duckworth. “It’s a common strategy for getting over anxiety about holiday parties or having the boss as your Secret Santa.” Remember that alcohol is itself a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse. It also may not be safe for people taking antidepressant medication, says Pope.
  21. Try a sun lamp. As the daylight grows shorter, lots of people find their mood gets gloomier. While some have diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even people who don’t may still have a seasonal aspect to their depression. Talk to your doctor about trying a sun lamp. It could improve your m
  22. If you take medication, don’t miss doses. In the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy to slack off and miss medication.  Take medication as directed and at the prescribed time.  Missing or taking medication at the wrong time can cause serious problems during the holidays.  Drinking alcohol can also interfere with the medications you are taking and cause serious complications.  Don’t let that happen. Make sure that you’re up-to-date on your refills, too.
  23. If you see a therapist, have extra meetings. To stay grounded, plan ahead and schedule some extra sessions during the holiday season. Or you could ask about the possibility of doing quick phone check-ins. 
  24. Give yourself a break. The holidays can make some people dwell on their imperfections, their mistakes, the things they’re not proud of especially when they around family.  Always try to cut yourself some slack. This is not an easy time of year for a lot of people. Give yourself grace and be gentle with yourself. It is the season of kindness and forgiveness, after all. Save some of it for yourself.
  25. Foster gratitude and forgiveness.  Instead of looking at what you don’t have in your life or those you are missing, try to focus on what you do have.  By focusing on and appreciating what we have we create good memories and our attitude towards ourselves and others improves.
 If you do feel that you are depressed and have thoughts of self-harm, please seek help from a mental health professional.  You don’t have to face it alone.  You deserve to have to life you want and there are those who will listen, guide you and support you to a better life.

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