By Jason Carriveau, MSN, PMHNP-BC, ATC
With the high expectations for holiday gift-giving, decorating, feasting, and family gathering, you might not feel very joyful right now. In fact, the holidays can leave many people feeling sad or overwhelmed. But there are a number of healthy ways to manage through the holiday blues.
Holiday stress and the emotions that arise at this time of year can be especially difficult for those experiencing depression. If you’re dealing with depression, one of your best management strategies is to stay in touch with your care team when holiday stress seems like “too much” or when you’re concerned that your depression might get worse at this hectic time of year.
The ups and downs of depression treatment
Depression affects an estimated 21 million adults in the United States. It happens when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for two weeks or longer and when they interfere with the activities of daily life. In addition, depression can cause physical symptoms such as pain, weight loss or gain, sleep disruptions, or lack of energy. People with depression may have a hard time concentrating or think a lot about death or suicide, according to the American Psychological Association.
It’s one of the most common mental health disorders, but therapy, medication, or a combination of both can help. Treatment for depression takes time and does not always follow a straight path forward. For example, medications typically take four weeks or longer before they start helping you feel better. And you still might have ups and downs throughout treatment.
During the holiday season, you might feel frustrated when stress sneaks up on you and stirs up your depression symptoms. Remember that it’s not uncommon to have several days where you feel pretty good, but then have a day where it feels like depression has come back again.
Your progress in treatment might seem to slide a little during times of high stress — like when you have an upcoming family dinner on the calendar with relatives you don’t get along with, or when your kids ask for gifts you simply can’t afford. Think in terms of the general direction of your progress. Talk with your healthcare provider or therapist on what you can expect from treatment in stressful times.
Managing depression during the holidays
Here are a few tips that may help you or a loved one during the holiday season.
- Pay attention to self-care
Self-care means focusing on healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and relaxing. Set aside specific time to destress if your week will include the hectic schedule of traveling or other activities out of your normal routine. Aim for 30 minutes a day of physical activity — even a short walk can boost your mood.
When managing depression, self-care includes sticking with your established treatment plan and taking your medication according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Focus on the fun
We’ve all done it: Trying to make everyone happy at the expense of your own happiness. Resist the urge to feel responsible for making the season perfect for everyone. Focus on the fun rather than the perfect.
Remember that holiday activities can be spread out over a few days to lessen the stress and increase the enjoyment. And there’s nothing wrong with ordering food rather than cooking all day.
- Plan your response to possible stress
Plan ahead of time what your strategy will be when times get stressful. Can you take a walk outside for a few minutes to enjoy some quiet time? How about brewing a cup of chamomile tea and savoring the smell, the taste, and the warmth? When you have a plan at the ready, you worry less about “what to do” in the moment.
Talk through your strategies with your care team. Sometimes simply saying “no” to an invitation can give you the extra time for self-care that you need.
- Be part of something bigger
Try doing something to help others feel joyful this holiday season. Can you volunteer to serve meals or distribute food at a hunger center? Can you sing in your church choir? Can you exchange babysitting duty with other parents in your neighborhood so everyone has a chance to work through their to-do lists?
Research shows that volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing feel-good hormones in your body. The joy that you’re bringing will be reflected back to you.
- Seek additional help when needed
If the holiday blues seem to linger or get more intense, consider reaching out to your care team, even if you’re between your regular appointments. While the holiday season can be a temporary challenge in your progress, it’s always best to check in with behavioral health professionals who can help you stay on a positive path forward.
The behavioral health and psychiatry team at Lamoille Health Partners has expertise in managing stress, depression, and anxiety during the holidays and all year long. Our professionals offer proven therapies and approved medications to help you on your journey to living your best life.