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Battling Holiday Depression

Anna LaBarbera, LCSW, St. Claire Counselor, shares tips on managing depression associated with the holidays.

It is true that the rate of depression increases during the holidays. How can they not with the media telling us and showing us what a perfect Christmas gathering should look like? The expectations are enormous and the realities are sometimes overwhelming for all of us. As adults, we have very strong images and memories of our childhood holidays. Some of them are magical, some traumatic, and some neutralized by time and distance. Here are some tips on how to make the holidays brighter and balanced.

Keep expectations in check. Everything does not have to be perfect, yourself included. The goal is to celebrate the spirit of the season with your family and your friends. There are things that will be out of your control and that’s ok. Just go with it. What is the worst that could happen? If a situation becomes emotionally untenable then shorten the visit and lighten or distract from the situation.

Limit Social Media. Social media participation is a double-edged sword. Yes, it does help keep in touch with family and friends but on the flip side, it can increase feelings of loneliness, self-doubt, and sadness. It can also contribute to family conflict and misunderstandings. It best to limit exposure during this time of year. Instead, pick up the phone and call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a bit. Connecting emotionally is the best medicine when feeling alone and disconnected.

Do not try to do too much and certainly do not over commit. Fatigue, over scheduling, and taking on too many tasks can dampen spirits and drain energy. Do less so you have more energy to spend with family and friends.

Create a reasonable budget for yourself and stick to it. Many large families participate in Kris Kringle for the children or do a family gift. If money is very limited, think about baked goods, homemade sauces, relishes, knitted scarves and blankets, personalized items, and other affordable, meaningful gifts. The holidays are not about the presents, it’s about the thoughts and time spent with those we love.

Don’t isolate yourself. If you are feeling left out, get out of the house and find some ways to participate in festive holiday events. Local churches and civic groups organize free concerts, parades, caroling programs, and more. Studies show that helping others can help improve our mood and feelings of well-being. This is the perfect time of year to volunteer and spread the cheer. There are opportunities at the local food pantry, animal shelter, and nursing home where your presence will make a difference.

Many of us are separated from our families or have lost loved ones. If you can’t be with those you love then make plans to celebrate again when you can all be together. In the meantime plan a celebration with friends who are in town or those who are new to your town.

Extend a welcome to a potluck supper and start a new tradition in your community. Remember the point is to be together and celebrate the holiday.

Watch your diet and remember to exercise. Be sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy meals and snacks to avoid feeling run down or stressed out during these busy times.

Sometimes people suffer from depression due to lack of sunlight during the shorter days and bad weather. Using a full spectrum lamp for twenty minutes a day can lessen this type of depression, which is called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This is also a good opportunity to take “me” time to unwind and reflect on the experiences of the day. Journaling works well during this time. If you see a therapist regularly, be sure to schedule appointments during the holiday season to discuss issues that arise due to holiday stress and unresolved conflicts.

Learn forgiveness and acceptance. If some of your relatives have always acted out or made you feel bad, chances are those things won’t change. Strategize in advance how you will handle these situations to avoid serious conflicts. If you know what you are getting into, it will be easier to not let them push your buttons. This is a good topic to bring up in therapy.

May the true meaning of this holiday season bring joy to your hearts. Happy Holidays!