For many people, the holiday season brings up feelings of joy, as they imagine the twinkling of Christmas lights and recall the warm scents of fall that bring back memories of happy Thanksgiving gatherings. For others, the holiday season is more like a trigger, as they are reminded of the financial burdens and stress that this time of year brings, stress that may lead to holiday depression.
This year in particular will present a new set of challenges for everyone, as the pandemic is sure to impact our usual traditions. Some of us may even be spending this holiday season alone.
Those who experience holiday depression and associate this time of year with feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or sadness are not so focused on finding holiday cheer as they are just finding any sense of cheer at all. In either case, it is possible to be happy even when you feel hopeless.
How can I overcome my holiday depression this year?
Remember what matters
The holiday season can make you feel like everyone else around you is in sync, and you are the only one not on board. While everyone is out and about shopping for material goods, you are stuck looking around at all of these plastic decorations that everyone seems to be obsessed with putting up but carry little to no meaning for you.
They prioritize finding the largest Christmas tree and Thanksgiving turkey, but you prioritize the simple things, like spending time with loved ones. So, to keep your mental health in check this season, you need to remember that it is not what matters to everyone else; it is what matters to you.
It is easy to feel left out when your friends and family are busy making time for all of these things, and you are left at home alone, wondering if you are being thought of or if anyone else feels the same as you.
If close friend and family time is essential to you, it might benefit you to schedule a small get together of your own during the holiday season. But it does not have to be a holiday-themed gathering just because it would appease someone else.
In fact, your loved ones are more than likely to appreciate your perspective and that you cared enough to want to be with them for who they are, and not the gifts they bring or silly Santa hats they adorn.
Maybe you are someone who appreciates giving others gifts, no matter what time of year. Or, perhaps you have never helped a charity before, but you feel like ending this year doing something new and positive.
Giving your time or money to charity can do wonders for your mental health. If you feel down and lost in your holiday depression this year, consider donating to boost your spirits. It feels good to give to those in need, and it will provide you with a more profound sense of hope and purpose too.
Know when to say “no.”
Over-committing is one of the leading causes of holiday depression, as it leads to heightened states of stress and fatigue. Often, we feel obligated to commit because we hear a family member in the back of our mind saying, the holidays only come once a year, or it will be good for you to be around family.
You may be all too aware that it is not, in fact, always good for you to be around family, but you are too afraid to admit it. Sometimes you just want to avoid the impending family holiday drama and spend some time alone doing something that makes you feel good.
Sometimes you already have too many commitments, and you would rather enjoy the ones you already have planned than stress over creating new ones.
If this sounds like you, perhaps this year, you can practice saying “no.” Once you decide, be confident that it is the best choice for you and your mental health, and be firm in your decision, or else others may persuade you. Sometimes, though, your family or friends are right, and sometimes you do need to be around other people, especially if you tend to get blue during the holidays.
If you feel on the fence about an invite this year, and would like the chance to see everyone but not for long enough for things to start going sour or for you to start feeling stressed over time, then go, but set a timer. Go to the event for 30 minutes to an hour, and then politely say your goodbyes. You do not owe anyone a reason for going home.
Eat well and be merry
What we eat not only impacts our physical health, but it also affects the way we feel. The holiday season is often characterized as a “dangerous” or glutinous time for people, where there are not only more opportunities to eat, but to eat poorly. Have a clear idea of which foods sit well with you, both physically and mentally, before heading out the door for holiday occasions.
Fuel up on something healthy, especially protein, before going out for a night where unfulfilling sugary snacks will surround you. “Sugar” is the keyword here, as indulging in these sweet cravings will have no positive effect on your mood. Sugar can inhibit your ability to deal with stress and manage emotions like hopelessness and sadness.
What about post holiday depression?
Get back on track
Remember that sugar is addictive, and poor eating habits can be difficult to break. If you find yourself continuing to eat a diet that is too high in sugar or fats, you will likely experience post holiday depression as well. Not only does this type of holiday depression occur from what is happening in your physical body, but also what we tend to carry with us after the holidays is an unnecessary and heavy load of guilt.
If you had trouble avoiding the sweets this year, do not let it derail your healthy habits. Do not feel guilty if you overindulged once or twice this season or gained a few pounds. While the extra weight may impact post holiday depression, your mindset plays an even more significant role. Remember this is not the end all be all, and it is time to get back on track with a positive mindset and a more nutrient-dense diet.
Getting back on track might also mean making sure that you’re taking any medication that’s prescribed to you. If you let these things slide, it could negatively impact your mental health. Talk to your doctor about your medication and discuss the way forward that’s right for you. There are plenty of new options such as esketamine treatment that you might want to consider.
Limit caffeine & alcohol intake
If you suffer from holiday depression, there are two more things you will want to look out for both during the holiday season and in the time that follows: caffeine and alcohol. With the busyness and fatigue of the season, many of us tend to indulge in more coffee than usual. Caffeine is used to heighten moods and increase alertness levels, but in doing so, it enhances feelings of anxiety as well.
Too much caffeine will not only leave you feeling anxious but affect your sleep also, and poor sleep can make anxiety and depression challenging to manage. Drinking caffeine in excess can give rise to addiction, making post holiday depression difficult to manage as well.
Consider making the switch to something like green tea this year, at least in the afternoons, because excessive caffeine will not do you any favors for your mental health and holiday depression, despite the happy jitters you may feel at first.
Alcohol is another thing that seems easy to come by during the holiday season, despite it being the one time of year you should really be avoiding it. But nobody is trying to tell you to be unrealistic or that it is not okay to have a drink or two here and there, even if you are feeling depressed.
Just be mindful that alcohol not only has its own harmful effects on your mental health but it, too, can negatively affect sleep. When your sleep is impacted you may end up suffering from post holiday depression as well, because your sleep cycle can take some time to get back on track.
Over the holidays, try not to find yourself drinking a glass of wine too late at night, having trouble sleeping, drinking too much caffeine the next day to recoup, then experience trouble sleeping again.
That is when you will know you are caught up in the vicious caffeine-alcohol-sleep cycle, which can continue on well past the holidays and, can lead to habits that are hard to break. Enjoy your occasional glass of wine or beer this season, but do not overdo it and stick to a regular sleep schedule the best you can.
Focus on the good
No matter what you are struggling with this season, whether it is missing the company of a loved one or a pandemic-related stopper to your favorite traditions, there is always one perspective that is sure to leave you feeling better. Even when you feel the most hopeless, practicing gratitude is key to a happy holiday season and combating post holiday depression.
With everything that has happened this year you may begin to dwell on the past and feel like things are falling apart. Ask yourself, what and who do you have in your life right now that you can be grateful for? Be thankful that you are still healthy, be grateful that your loved ones are still here, and be grateful that you are making it through a tough financial year; you can be as specific or broad as you would like to be, but the bottom line is that there is always something to be grateful for.
The more we regularly acknowledge these things, the easier it will be to manage post holiday depression and maintain a positive and happy mindset.
Despite all the gift wrapping and over-commercialization, everyone is always saying how the holidays are a perfect time to recognize what you already have. So, be the one who follows that advice, and allow gratitude to guide you through this season as well as through any post holiday depression you may experience.
Your traditions may be changing, but your values do not have to. When everything around you feels out of your control, remember that you are in control of your thoughts and mindset. Taking a few moments each day and night to jot down some things you are grateful for, will help you maintain this healthy perspective and enjoy the holidays. Just as the seasons change, so can our traditions. Maybe for this holiday season it’s time to hold on to what you do have and let go of the rest.