3 Ways to Manage Your Major Depression During the Holidays
Depression increases during the holidays. The weight of expectations, demands, and stress can become overbearing, especially if you already struggle to manage major depression during ordinary times. You can manage your moods this holiday season if you take the right steps. Rely on those you trust to help you maintain healthy lifestyle habits, know what your limits are and set boundaries without worrying that you’ll disappoint others, focus on what you can change and control, and if necessary, seek professional help to get through the holidays.
Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with major depression. They are also more likely to struggle with seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that mostly impacts people in winter.
The holiday season, with all its demands, stress, and expectations, can be a big trigger for anyone with depression. If you dread the holidays this reason, there are steps you can take to minimize the negative impact.
Above all, be aware of your symptoms and moods and recognize when you can’t manage this on your own and need help.
How the Holidays Trigger and Worsen Depression
It is a documented fact that the holiday season can make people feel stressed and depressed. Depression increases at this time of year, both in people with otherwise good mental health and those with diagnosed mental illnesses.
There are several reasons for this, but a big one is the stress and pressure of expectations. This is supposed to be a happy, festive time of year with perfect decorations and gifts, lots of parties, getting together with family, and making delicious meals. Women especially feel the weight of these expectations and the pressure to make the holidays enjoyable for everyone. But when the reality doesn’t live up to the ideal, it can trigger serious depression.
Other reasons you may experience more depression right now include social anxiety, stressful family gatherings, being around people who have traumatized you in the past, reminders of loved ones you have lost, and even loneliness.
If you already have diagnosed major depression, the holidays are full of triggers that can send you into a spiral. Make sure you are aware of your triggers and moods and recognize if symptoms are persisting or worsening. Take steps to manage your mental health and don’t worry about disappointing others.
1. Be Prepared and Willing to Say No.
Some people at this time of year thrive on all the activity and busyness, but if it triggers your low mood or adds extra stress and anxiety, you need to know when to bow out. For some women with depression, anxiety is also a big issue. Going to parties may seem like fun to others but could cause you a great deal of stress, even just thinking about going.
It is perfectly acceptable to say no to invitations to social engagements and holiday events. It’s also okay to say no to other demands that only worsen your mood or add to your stress: participating in a cookie swap or gift exchange, going to your spouse’s office Christmas party, or even attending a family holiday dinner. If it is bad for your mental health, say no.
Saying no isn’t always easy, especially for women. We feel the weight of expectations and hesitate to disappoint people. But you must set boundaries and limitations for your mental health. Put your needs first.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to avoid isolation. Depression makes you want to withdraw from others, which is unhealthy. Choose just a few events that feel safest to you to attend, like a small gathering with close friends or a low-stress work party.
2. Prioritize Healthy Habits.
In the midst of depression, it’s easy to let go of healthy habits and to indulge in what you know isn’t good for you: sleeping too much, eating all the sweet treats, watching TV instead of going out for a walk. Now more than ever it is important to treat your mind and body well.
Enlist your partner or a good friend to keep you accountable for healthy habits. By taking care of your physical health you will be better able to manage your moods and avoid deep spirals of depression. Here are some important habits to stick with right now especially:
- Set and stick with a routine. It’s easy to slip out of normal routines during the holidays, but doing so can cause more stress and damage to your mental health.
- Get enough sleep. Make bedtime a routine as well. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, aiming for six to eight hours.
- Get outside and get active. Exercise is so important for managing depression. During the winter it’s tempting to avoid outdoors at all costs, but getting fresh air and exercise together is beneficial. Just be sure to bundle up.
- Prepare healthy meals. Food temptations are everywhere right now. Make healthy meals at home so that you can avoid loading up on junk at parties.
- Use physical relaxation strategies. Manage stress with things like meditation, exercise, and breathing exercises. Take a few minutes alone in the bathroom at a party if you need it at the moment.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and won’t lift your mood, at least not beyond the initial pleasant feeling. Drinking can worsen symptoms, and excessive drinking can leave you feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
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3. Focus on What You Can Actually Control.
When you’re feeling down from depression it is typical to focus on everything negative, much of which is totally out of your control. As you make your way through the holiday season there will be many things that stress you out, make you sad, anger you, and overwhelm you.
Focus on the factors that you can control, and change and let go of those you can’t. For instance, going out shopping during the holidays can be an emotional minefield. People are stressed and rushing and may not be very nice. If a salesperson is rude to you, take it in stride. Remember that they are unhappy and stressed. It isn’t personal.
Closer to home, you may have family issues that are also out of your control. You may dread a family dinner because of your sisters who don’t get along and will fight the entire night. You can’t control their relationship, so don’t try to and don’t feel bad if you can’t help them resolve their differences.
Focus on what you can manage for your own well-being: the events you choose to attend, how you behave with others, the amount of responsibilities you take on for the holidays, and the people with whom you choose to spend time.
Know When to Get Professional Support
Even with the best of intentions and strategies that have worked for you in the past to manage depression, there will be times when this chronic illness rears its ugly head and you need more help. Your family and close friends may be supportive and your own coping skills positive and healthy, but if nothing is making you feel better and you are overwhelmed, treatment may be necessary.
A residential facility may be just the right place for you during this holiday season. It may seem like you’ll be letting down family and friends, but those who really care about your well-being will understand. Treatment right now in a small, intimate facility can provide you with both professional care and a safe environment.
Whatever your specific triggers are at this time of year, treatment can help you cope with them. Therapy sessions, support from other residents, healthy activities and recreation, and a break from the relentless demands of the holidays may be just what you need.
Major Depression Treatment at Helix Treatment Centers
Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of major depression and other mental health disorders in a supportive environment that caters to their psychological, physiological, and emotional needs so they can create a life worth living. We offer a tranquil space to restore emotional and behavioral health and stability in a safe, comfortable environment at our six-bed residence nestled in the beautiful Mt. Helix region of San Diego.
Contact us to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.