While it’s not true that suicide rates peak during the holidays — they actually spike during May and June — the holidays can nevertheless be tough for people suffering from depression. There’s a lot of pressure to have a good time during the holidays, and to enjoy feelings of family togetherness that may or may not actually exist. The holidays are also a stressful time for many, what with all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and partying that most people feel obligated to do. For many, the holidays lead to financial worries as people amass credit card debt and work more overtime hours.
But you don’t have to let the holidays get you down, even if you’re suffering from depression. Stick with your treatment plan and make taking care of yourself a priority. Give yourself time and space to relax, manage stress, and exercise regularly. If you’re coping with loneliness, don’t be afraid to reach out to those who are available to you. Consider volunteering to help others at this time of year — it can be a good way to get your mind off your own troubles.
Don’t Get Lazy About Managing Your Depression
The holidays are no excuse to stop following your normal depression treatment plan. Continue taking your medication as normal, attending therapy, and exercising regularly. If you’ve felt increased feelings of depression around the holidays in the past, or if your feelings of depression appear to get worse around the holidays, ask your doctor about adding a medication like Abilify to your normal antidepressant.
You might be tempted to cut back on sleep during the holiday season in order to have more time to shop, cook, bake, decorate, and do all the other things you’ll want to do to celebrate the season. Likewise, you might be tempted to use the holidays as an excuse to overeat sugary, fatty foods. Try to resist both of these temptations. While it’s okay to indulge in some holiday treats, eating too many will cause weight gain and will also contribute to worsening your mood. You’re going to need to keep making sure you get plenty of sleep every night, too, since sleep deprivation can make feelings of depression worse.
Dial Back the Celebrations
The holiday season lasts a good couple of months. Pace yourself so you don’t become overwhelmed. Think about what celebrations really mean the most to you and those close to you. Be realistic about what you can manage. You don’t need to have the most decorations, the biggest ugly sweater party, the most elaborate baked goods, or the most expensive gifts. Stick with what’s most meaningful for you and your loved ones.
Stress is a major trigger for depression, but you can cut out a lot of holiday stress by sitting down at the beginning of the holiday season and planning out blocks of time to shop, decorate, cook, wrap gifts, and handle other holiday tasks. Make lists and buy cooking ingredients ahead of time so you won’t have to deal with rushing out to the store at the last minute. Consider buying gifts online — that way you won’t have to deal with stress-inducing holiday traffic and crowds.
It’s easy to feel inadequate during the holidays. When you’re struggling to get along with loved ones, or feeling pressure to buy the nicest gifts, it’s hard to remember that it’s the little things that really matter. Take time every day to remember the people and things you’re grateful for. Let your spouse, children, friends, parents, and other loved ones know how much they mean to you. Try to cultivate feelings of gratitude for your home, job, pets, and all the other things that you might otherwise take for granted.
If you’re feeling lonely during the holidays, remember that you’re not the only one. Single people, elderly people, empty nesters, and those who have recently suffered a loss all experience grief and loneliness during the holidays. Reach out to friends, neighbors, your church, or extended family members. If you’re far from those you care about, arrange for a Skype chat or a phone call to help you feel connected again.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re focusing on your own problems. Helping those less fortunate can help you forget about your own troubles and make you feel better about yourself. There is no shortage of volunteer opportunities to be had during the holiday season. Organize a neighborhood gift drive for charity, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, or simply visit a neighbor who is also alone at this time of year. Lending a helping hand can give you a new sense of purpose and help you foster a sense of connection with others.
The holidays can be a difficult time when you’re managing depression. Take them one day at a time. With a little forethought and prudence, and you might find yourself enjoying the holidays more than you ever thought possible.