Category: Self-improvement

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Managing Holiday Depression

“’Tis the season…” You probably know the rest. It seems there’s a general expectation that this last month of the year will be merry and bright. But those who struggle with depression know that it doesn’t go away just because it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” In fact, all those good tidings of joy might actually worsen existing symptoms. After all, depression is a hard enough battle without society sending the message that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t feel the holiday joy. If you’re finding it even more difficult than usual to manage your depressive symptoms this holiday season, read on for some tips on self-care as well as advice on when to seek depression counseling.

Set realistic expectations

When depression sets in, it can take more energy than normal to do the things you need to do to get through the day. Daily activities like going to work, taking care of your kids, grocery shopping, and cleaning the house suddenly become exhausting chores. And sometimes some of them don’t even get done. That can make the added tasks of the holidays seem particularly daunting. It’s crucial, then, for those who are managing depression during this season to prioritize. Don’t expect yourself to do it all this year. Talk with your family about realistic expectations around all the holiday extras such as card-writing, decorating, gift-preparation, baking, and attending parties and other holiday events. Decide which are most meaningful to you and your family, and figure out where you can trim or even delegate some of the responsibility. The extra time you’ll have and the reduced stress you’ll feel will go a long way toward keeping depressive symptoms from worsening during this hectic season.

Tune out some of the holiday “noise”

It’s inescapable this time of the year: the holiday music playing in all the stores, the movies showing on all the cable channels, and the endless ads on TV, the radio, and in print. It’s hard to ignore, and bright and merry as it is, it reinforces the belief that it’s a happy time of the year for everyone. But if you’re struggling with depression, it simply may not feel that way. Because depression can lead to increased feelings of guilt, anyway, why should you also feel guilty that you’re not as happy as you should be this season? You have control over how many of these holiday messages you take in, so why not consider limiting them? Be a critical consumer of all the seasonal “noise” that’s thrown your way this season. If the holiday music or movies lift your mood, immerse yourself in them. If, on the other hand, the store ads leave you feeling guilty about lacking the energy to do all the shopping this year, watch commercial-free movies instead. If you’re struggling with depression, you know that your baseline mood on most days is lower than normal. Give it a little extra TLC this season by structuring your holiday media intake with that in mind.

Seek depression counseling

So far, we’ve identified a couple of self-care techniques to manage depression this holiday season. They both involve setting limits in order to lift your mood and allow more time for the self-care that is so vital to staving off depressive symptoms. And if you’ve grappled with depression for any length of time, you probably already have other self-care habits in place that help. But if you find that it’s particularly difficult to continue managing it on your own, think about depression counseling as an additional option. Find a professional you feel comfortable with, whether it’s a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or clergy member, and let them share in your efforts to combat depression. Proper depression counseling can supplement the hard work you do every day to keep those depressive symptoms in check. And counselors’ understanding can help you normalize the challenges of finding the holiday joy when depression rears its head.

Family and friends enjoying a meal can also be a source of holiday anxiety.

Holiday Anxiety

They’re baaaaaack! It’s hard to ignore the holidays when we’re constantly reminded of them by the music, ads, and store displays all around us. But this season of gratitude, togetherness, and joy can also be a hectic and stressful one. For some, that stress is felt as an increase in anxiety, ranging from stress headaches or muscle tension to problems sleeping at night. Read on to learn more about what drives that holiday anxiety, and some tips for managing it.

Unrealistic Expectations

For some, it starts with the holiday cards. Family photos must be taken while the trees are still green and the sun hot enough to make you sweat in your holiday best. But that’s only the beginning. There’s the Thanksgiving meal to plan, the travel arrangements to be made, and the holiday decorating to do. And don’t forget all the holiday parties and those can’t-miss family entertainment options that only come along once a year! There’s an awful lot to pack in to these few weeks, and there’s a lot of pressure to pull it all off without a hitch. If you’re stressed out by the demands of creating the perfect holiday:

  • Make it YOUR holiday. Find out what’s most important to you and your family by talking about favorite holiday memories. This will reveal your “must-do’s,” and help you prioritize the most important things. Pour your heart into those few things instead of spreading yourself too thinly over many.
  • Be a critical consumer of social media and advertising. Remember that those scenes of holiday perfection aren’t so often found in real life. But if you still feel like your holiday doesn’t measure up, consider limiting time spent on social media, or taking a break from it altogether.
  • Practice gratitude. If you are on social media, you’ve probably noticed a recent trend in the month of November where folks share one thing each day that they’re thankful for. The candid nature of these posts is quite refreshing: one day the writer might be thankful for veterans who risked their lives for our country, and the next for dinner delivery kits that make life easier on busy weeknights. Such an everyday expression of gratitude, whether for things great or small, can ground us to what’s really important in life.
  • Give back. Never are volunteer opportunities more plentiful than during the holidays. Whether it’s sponsoring a less-fortunate family during the season, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or spending time talking with the elderly at an assisted living facility, seeing beyond our “first-world” holiday expectations can keep things in perspective.

Stressful Family Situations

“My family is not normal.” I’ve heard this from clients countless times over the years. And family relationships marked by a history of maltreatment or even outright abuse should never be considered normal. But many families simply have longstanding strain that, having gone unaddressed for so long, creates tension when everyone’s together. Throw the stress of the season into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for one awkward, uncomfortable holiday. Consider these tips when you’re just about ready to walk out on your family celebration:

  • Have a game plan for awkward family discussions. Unfinished business between family members has a way of rearing its head when everyone’s together. Or someone might bring up a hot topic such as the recent election, or politics in general. Regardless, it’s worth giving some forethought to how and what you want to say should these delicate issues come up.
  • It’s also not a bad idea to plan a few escapes from too much family interaction. Locate a quiet place you can retreat when conversation goes south. Or plan an activity to do together instead of just sitting around the house talking. Unresolved family issues will still be there to work on after the holidays.

Household Guests & Changes to Routine

No, you’re not just old and set in your ways. We all benefit from structure, and the holidays are prime routine-disruptors, particularly if you’re hosting houseguests or are one yourself. Whether it’s college students returning home for an extended break or out-of-town guests just staying a couple of nights, most people bring their own preferences and routines right along with their luggage. To avoid extra stress from attempting to accommodate everybody’s needs:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss some general house rules and expectations up front. College students, for example, frequently have later curfews than they did when they still lived at home. On the other hand, small children staying with you may need quiet for bedtime a lot earlier than you’re used to. Upon arrival, talk with your guests about their needs, as well as yours, to avoid after-the-fact misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  • To maintain some sense of normalcy within your bustling holiday inn, pick one or two pieces of your daily routine that you’re not willing to part with. Maybe it’s your daily workout, meditation, or devotional. Or maybe it’s your bedtime. What do you do normally that grounds you, relaxes you, or rejuvenates you? The holidays are no reason to give those things up, and in fact, may actually call for a little more of them.

These are just a few ways you can reduce some of the inherent stress at this time of the year. But if you find that your anxiety seems to be out-of-proportion, or if it lasts beyond the holidays or interferes with your functioning at home or on the job, reach out to a trusted professional for more support. We at Brentwood Counseling Associates are ready to help.

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