The holiday season is ‘supposed’ to be filled with joy, but for many of us, the opposite is true. Luckily, there are some things you can do to cope with holiday depression.
When I think about the holidays, the first things that come to mind are: joy, generosity, and being surrounded by loved ones.
But the truth is, that’s not how my holiday actually goes. And while this time of year is one that I remember enjoying when I was a child, it’s an occasion I would rather skip now. That’s because, when I reflect further, different feelings and emotions start to appear:
Anxiety, fear, panic, and depression.
While I love to give gifts to loved ones, the thought of not picking out the perfect one makes me want to burst into tears. So, I always go overboard. And when I log on to my social media handles and see couples going on holiday outings, I realize how alone I actually feel. It’s as if any prior months of progress don’t matter and I’m just an inch away from reverting back to my deepest lows.
My anxiety and depression go to new highs during the holidays. I’m not the only one. A 2014 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 64% of people with a diagnosed mental illness say the holidays make their condition worse. And a 2021 survey found that 60% of Americans say their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays.
I find that when I try to hold myself together during the holidays, I can’t control how irritable I become to others. Trying to hold it in on a regular day is difficult enough, let alone on days when you feel especially overwhelmed. I begin to question my progress, my medications, my counselors, and how appreciated I am by my “loved ones.”
These are the times when I want to be left alone and have no interaction with anybody, just to unwind.
I can remember a couple of holiday seasons that were the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with. I was going through a breakup, while simultaneously hiding my battle with anxiety and depression. And to top it off, I wasn’t feeling very connected to my friends or family.
Thankfully, I’ve learned to change how I deal with my anxiety, panic, and depression around the holidays. How? By remembering that, even though you’re expected to give back and give joy to others, you simply cannot disregard your own mental health.
After talking with my counselor many times about self-care strategies, I’m learning to manage my well-being by not striving for perfection over the holidays. These are some of the tricks that are helping to keep me on track.
My anxiety can feel beyond overwhelming, and this is partly because I need everything to be picture-perfect. When I say everything, I really mean every single detail. I think that if the details aren’t just right, the whole holiday will go wrong. Instead, I’ve learned to focus less on the details, and more on the memories that everyone takes away from the holiday.
Try writing down a plan to help relieve some of that anxiety. If you like making cookies with a family member, make a plan and really turn it into a fun occasion.
Dealing with depression over the holidays feels awful. It often feels like it’s better to stay inside and isolate yourself, rather than impose on anyone’s holiday plans. However, when you do this, you may be more likely to spend extra time scrolling your social media feeds and fall into a worsened mental state. Instead, take a vow to focus more on your own holiday, instead of comparing it to all the people you follow on social media.
It may be helpful to delete the apps from your phone entirely. This will give you more time to enjoy the company of those around you, and help you steer clear of deep lows.
I am very grateful to be surrounded by loved ones during the holidays. Doing things that are a little more relaxing is a great way to reduce anxiety and depression. Having said that, it’s so important to take time for yourself. Make it a priority to relax and unwind by focusing on your mental health.
Take some time to do things you enjoy away from everybody else. (Painting, photography, reading, writing, and walking are my go-to’s.)
Whether it’s gift shopping, holiday traditions, or people visiting from out of town, I find myself constantly surrounded by people during the holidays. While that is a wonderful thing, it’s also important to do some relaxing by yourself.
I think it’s not only crucial to notice when you need time alone, but also to communicate to others that you need some downtime to clear your mind of the holiday stress.
Holiday depression is real, but it’s possible to make the holidays feel special again. You may not feel the “magic” of the holidays that everyone talks about, and that’s OK. But by caring for yourself and your mental health, you can still find joy.
These tips have allowed me to enjoy the people around me, and enjoy my own company as well. Here’s to taking control!
This article originally appeared December 11, 2017 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last updated and medically reviewed November 23, 2022.
Medically reviewed on November 23, 2022
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