Here comes Santa Claus. And here comes holidays depression.
Well, if that’s what you believe, that’s what will happen.
It doesn’t have to be that way, at least regarding depression. Remember that for all of us with depression, the quality of our lives reflects the quality of our beliefs.
So how about we short-circuit those negative beliefs by inserting a few proactive strategies into the mix? Take back a little control from the demon “black dog”. Maybe our Christmas and New Year depression can be less traditional this time. Or even just less.
Your feelings are okay, so acknowledge them
Many of us have painful memories triggered at this time of year, especially about the loss of a loved one, or a relationship, or just being alone.
Please know that those feelings are okay and valid. They are not shameful and shouldn’t ever be buried or hidden.
All feelings and emotions are okay. What’s not okay is when we dislike ourselves for them or we isolate ourselves.
Keep a gratitude journal
Before I get into strategies for handling holiday depression triggers, you need to know that gratitude is one of the most powerful and transformational emotions in the universe.
So make a pre-emptive strike. Write down three to five things every day that you are grateful for. If there’s ever a time of year for harnessing the power of gratitude to combat depression, this is it.
Have a therapy appointment lined up
Make an appointment for early January. Give yourself something to look forward to, or at least a session for “downloading” your Christmas and New Year experiences. Instead of the future looking like the same old crap, you will have something positive and practical on your calendar.
Better yet, check in with your therapist in December and again after.
Don’t be alone – reach out
As much as you want to sit alone, don’t – at least not across the entire holiday break. That is brutal for your mental health, and you know it.
Ask someone to accompany you, be around you, or at least check on you. Don’t believe that stuff in your head that tells you to keep your misery to yourself and not “burden” or “infect” anyone else with it. That’s one of the lies depression tells you.
If someone has said, “I’m here for you,” or “Call me when you need a hand,” now is the time to take them up on that.
Ask and you shall receive. If you don’t ask … nothing.
If you’re up to it, have a purpose of some kind. Sing in a group. Bake and bring foods to others. Make your gifts this year. Serve at a soup kitchen. Volunteer at a food bank. Be a designated driver.
Purpose is good. It prevents us from wallowing for long periods of time.
When visiting difficult relatives, set boundaries and expectations
Many of us have real trouble being around family in the holidays. It’s remarkable how many families have dysfunctional Christmases, so don’t think you’re alone here.
It isn’t necessary for you to endure torture from lunchtime until late on Christmas Day. For family gatherings that you dread, let people know in advance the times you will arrive and leave. Set the expectations now, so they don’t get offended when you bail out. Then they have clear understanding in advance, and you have a plan.
If your family is that bad, you’ll have a deadline to look forward to.
As for hot topics that always incite family arguments, ask firmly but politely to avoid those. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You never know.
Bring a friend
If your family is tough to deal with, there’s no need to go it alone. Bring support. You’ll have an ally in the room and you’ll have someone to talk it over with afterwards.
When family or parties become overwhelming and stress is skyrocketing, have a space where you can retreat for a few moments. Even the bathroom. By the time you come back, the topic of conversation might have changed or a tense moment might be defused.
BUT … don’t wallow in that safe space and don’t allow negativity to rule you. Remind yourself that you are strong, you can do this, and there’s not long to go before you can escape properly.
Remember your asshole relatives are hurting, too
When one of them says something that triggers you badly, count to 10, breathe, and offer the one thing that you have long needed: love.
Remember, when that person says asshole things, it’s his/her way of dealing with trauma. Your way has been to insulate yourself by isolating yourself. Theirs has been to lash out at people they don’t understand or people they think are “weaker”.
So instead of being triggered by your racist uncle or your unsympathetic father who mocks you and tells you to harden up, remember that these people weren’t born this way. Somebody made them that way by withdrawing love from them at crucial times. When you look at things this way, you can see they’re in as much pain as you. They just show it differently.
Do everything you can to treat them with kindness, patience and care. It’s what they need most and what they expect least.
And you will retain your dignity and power.
Be empathetic, as best you can. I know it’s hard. But Gandhi was right – be the change you wish to see.
It’s OK to cocoon a little, especially after stress
If your stress levels have been high, it’s perfectly fine to retreat home and snuggle down in your jamies with chocolate, a movie, or some sport. Love yourself a little.
Name one person who has overcome or helped their depression with alcohol and self-chosen drugs. I’ll wait.
Note that I didn’t say abstain completely. Just don’t go overboard with booze or drugs.
Comfort food is fine, in moderation. But heavy self-medication, no way. You’ve had depression for a long time and you know that a few hours of numbing your mind to mask your pain doesn’t help one bit. In fact, it makes things worse. When you come back to alertness, things seem shittier than ever.
Instead of hitting the bottle, go back to the first point in this blog: acknowledge your feelings and talk about them. Then write down things you are grateful for.
Keep to your budget
You might have an awesome Christmas only to be hit by your credit card bill in January. Spending money doesn’t show people how much you love them. And money can’t buy you love.
Give your time, your care, your help, your support, your love. Those are the things that make the best gifts and best memories.
Try a full spectrum light
You never know, it might just bring you up a little from rock bottom. The northern winter brings much less sunlight, which affects people in ways they don’t often recognize.
Same goes for taking some vitamin D. Lack of sunlight can really screw things up, doubly so if there’s depression involved.
Hang in there, depression survivor. You’ve made it this far. That means you’re strong and amazing. You don’t have to bear the holiday depression burden alone.
Peace, light and love to you, now and always.