Hope for the Holidays

December 9th, 2019

Coping with depression around the holidays

As the refrain “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” plays in every store and radio station across the country, the holidays are anything but wonderful for many. Though depression may occur at any time of the year, holiday-induced stress and anxiety can cause even the most cheerful among us to feel out of step with the celebratory mood of the season.

For many, the holidays can bring about feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief. It reminds us of loved ones who are no longer present due to deaths, disagreements, or family separations.  With all the shopping, holiday parties and family gatherings, our normal routines of self-care such as working out, eating healthy and getting enough sleep can be disrupted.

For those who have dysfunctional families or family members, their reality is far from what we see in Hallmark Christmas movies. Family gatherings around the Christmas tree or Menorah can be extremely difficult, especially if there is unresolved family conflict. Add in overconsumption of alcohol and disagreements about politics and parenting styles and it’s no surprise why so many feel anxious about the pressure to be festive.

The holidays are particularly challenging for those in our community in recovery from a substance use disorder. Exposure to parties with festive cocktails, spiked eggnog and champagne toasts—combined with the routine stress that comes with hustle of the holidays—can be triggers for relapse, particularly for those in early sobriety.

Tips for getting in the holiday spirit:

  • Have realistic expectations of yourself and those around you.
  • Ask for help. Reach out to your support system.
  • Find a special way to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away.
  • Set aside any grievances or conflict with family during the holidays. Wait for a more appropriate time to work through family issues.
  • Stick to a schedule. Disrupting your routine can lead to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Exercise and try to eat sensibly.
  • Stick to a budget. Avoid the stores if the frenzy of holiday shoppers is a stressor, and consider making online purchases instead.
  • Set healthy boundaries and don’t overextend yourself. Learn to say no.
  • Bring a friend. If the idea of going to a party or family gathering is making you panic, ask a friend who understands your feelings to accompany you.
  • Give yourself permission to take a break! Find ways to recharge and restore balance in your life.
  • Start your own traditions that are special and meaningful to you.
  • Schedule time with a therapist if your depressive or anxious symptoms persist or increase.

Warning signs of holiday stress and depression

Some of the signs that a loved one may be struggling to cope with holiday stress include: isolating behaviors, withdrawing from activities, repeatedly turning down invitations, or a sad or anxious mood that persists. Worrisome behaviors such as drinking excessively, using substances, ignoring commitments and going off of medications are also signs that something is off.

 Strategies to help others:

  • Listen and provide encouragement.
  • Offer support, listen and just be present with your loved one. Don’t feel compelled to say the right thing to bring your loved one out of their funk.
  • Offer to schedule a therapy session.
  • Offer to do something active and distracting with your loved one.
  • Help with some of the tasks and chores that may have been neglected.
  • Provide positive reinforcement when you notice any improvement.
  • If your loved one begins to talk about feeling helpless and hopeless, call a mental health professional. These are indicators of more severe depression and should be addressed right away.

Happy Holidays… is it even possible?

It IS possible to enjoy the holiday season when we maintain a realistic outlook, let go of comparisons and perfectionism, and try to stay balanced with our time, eating habits and activities. Making connections with others and within one’s community leads to increased satisfaction and happiness. Be compassionate to yourself and others. If you are juggling multiple caregiver roles, take time to nourish  yourself, too. Finally, decide on what is important and truly meaningful to you this holiday season. Set a positive intention for your holidays and let that be the guiding spirit to lead you to some holly, jolly cheer.

Consider the Gift of Hope for Someone Suffering This Holiday Season

For those who struggle with mental health and/or substance use, the holidays can be the worst time of the year. Depression, anxiety and stress can soar. For them, these days can feel dark, dismal, and hopeless. For those individuals, DLC is very much a source of light, help and hope. You can become a Light of Hope for those who are hurting this holiday season by making a year-end gift of $100 or more. Click here to make a donation. 

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