“Happy Holidays!” may not be that happy for some people, especially those who have a history of mental health needs or who are at-risk. A significant amount of research shows that symptoms can worsen during this time of the year.
They can be triggered by seeing the year come to an end with unmet expectations, socialising with people you don’t ordinarily see, unresolved family grievances, alcohol, pressure to party, shifts in routines, unhealthy family dynamics… and the list is endless. Here are some tips to help you sail through this festive season.
1. Keep away from some people
Some people aren’t safe to be around when you are depressed. Maybe it’s your critical grandpa or your rude sister or your never-stops-gossiping friend.
Whoever it is, try to avoid being near them right now. You aren’t equipped to handle their lack of tact, and that’s okay.
2. Check in with yourself
As much as we want to take care of others and do for others, in the jam-packed holiday schedule, doing so often comes at a cost because one only has so much time and energy.
Even when it’s a good energy, one has to work on replenishing it. Maybe this is a time that individuals could be more attentive to their own needs. We don’t listen to ourselves enough, especially when the universe seems to be conspiring against us.
Before you head for another store or party this season, stop and ask yourself, ‘do I really feel up to this right now?’ If the answer is no, don’t do it. It’s okay to take care of yourself first. Give yourself some grace.
3. Assess your own expectations and those of others
People can stress themselves by setting up expectations they cannot meet, such as wanting to do things or buy gifts that are not financially feasible. Those internal expectations can be a significant contributor.
But we also can assume a lot of external expectations such as appearing happy and merry. A person who’s already suffering from mental illness may not necessarily feel the happiness or the merriment.
They may try to push themselves to have that superficial façade, but may not be able to. Assess whether an expectation is real, then tailor your behaviour to what’s truly feasible and won’t deplete your energy from, say, a forced expression of happiness.
Such behaviour can feed loneliness and feelings of isolation. For a situation such as an office or holiday party where merriment seems expected, it’s reasonable to weigh the choices of attending and possibly depleting your emotional energy versus taking a break, relaxing or doing something that restores you.
4. Retreat when you can
This can’t be said enough. When you’re depressed, it’s good to get out of the house and mingle, but too much small talk will drain you and leave you with a chitchat hangover.
Have a signal worked out with your spouse or friend, and when you’re ready to leave a gathering, just leave. Or drive in separate cars and use an excuse about relieving the sitter or taking the dog out. It’s okay to recharge alone.
5. Avoid drinking
Alcohol is ever-present during the holidays, and it’s tempting to join the revelry. But depression and alcohol tend to be a bad combo. Restrict yourself to one glass of wine or one beer and nurse it throughout your meal. Or try to avoid it altogether.
If someone asks why you’re not drinking, tell them you are saving those empty calories for dessert.
6. Learn to say no
Saying ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’ can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
If it’s not possible to say ‘no’ when your boss asks you to work overtime, but you can try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
7. Skip social media
Don’t torture yourself with over-the-top social posts. Your friends may really be happy or they may really be stressed. Either way, scrolling through countless selfies won’t make you feel any better.
Use your social media-free time to get cozy and check some books off your reading list.
8. Don’t skip counselling/therapy session
If you visit a therapist regularly, don’t skip a session because of the holidays. Rearrange your schedule if you have to, or ask if you can have a virtual session instead.
If you feel like your depression is worsening, see your doctor as soon as possible to talk about your medication. Make your mental health a top priority.
9. Reach out
If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship.
If you are feeling stressed during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
For example, consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend’s home during the holidays
10. Take control
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays.
Learn to recognise your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.