Does the holiday season weigh heavily upon your tender psyche? Depression get you down? Cold comfort in knowing that there are millions of people like you out there, right? No safety in numbers with this thing.
Many familiar with depression will agree: Sunny days are the worst. Yeah, sure, birds are chirping, kids are playing, and in the summer, you can hear the drone of lawnmowers in the distance. But with sunny days come obligations. You’re expected to be productive and enjoy the day. Let’s be real: Birds poop on your car, kids are loud and annoying, and freshly cut grass unleashes your hay fever. Yes, sunny days put a lot of pressure on a person.
Conversely, cold, rainy or snowy days are the best because you have a good excuse to stay in bed and cuddle up under the covers with cats sleeping by your feet. But someone has to feed them, and guess what? That someone is you. Only under threat of feline mutiny or family banishment will you venture out to the store to get cat food and holiday gifts, and that’s pure torture because the holiday season brings those awful chipper, happy people out in droves. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to bitch-slap the next beaming face.
It could be that you have a perfectly fine, supportive family. I know I do. They’re great folks. But in the throes of depression, it’s hard to see or appreciate that. And if you don’t have family or friends close by, the loneliness can be unbearable.
Depression is a many-faceted beast, and this article isn’t meant to be a cure-all. What we can offer here are some tips to help get you through the endless drudge of holiday parties, workplace gatherings and caroling, depression be damned. Twenty-five tips, one per day–think of it as a sort of depression advent calendar. If I had the energy, I’d paint a lovely picture for each day. Instead, Federico Castellon has captured the feelings of depression admirably. Learn more about the artist here.
- Keep it real. Don’t compare your holidays to those portrayed in overly cheerful greeting cards; that’s just not reality. Greeting card companies have to make money somehow, and their business model requires selling never-ending tidings of joy. But you’re smart, and you know better. Life is not a bowl of cherries. And that’s OK.
- Do something different. Don’t settle for being a sheep in the herd. Break out from the bahs. Who says you have to make an eight-course dinner for 15 family members? That’s the greeting card industry brainwashing you. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant instead–yes, let someone else do the cooking. Spend Christmas day at the movies. Skip the traditional gift-giving and donate the money to a charity. Screw those greeting cards. What a bunch of hooey!
- Reach out to friends and family. People who care about you want to know when you’re having a tough time. Your instinct may be to isolate yourself, but resist the urge to do so. At least keep in touch by phone. A friendly, empathic voice can work wonders. (Admittedly, I have a tough time with this one, but it is highly recommended anyway.)
- Life isn’t perfect, and that’s OK. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild, but don’t automatically anticipate disaster. Take the holidays as they come. The greeting card industry has bestowed special powers upon some perfectly ordinary days to make a few fast bucks. It means nothing! Surely you can see through all that. (I’m not being paranoid. Am I? Wait.)
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Now, here’s a cliche for you! But, guess what–it’s good advice. Don’t feel obligated to compete with that idiot down the street. You know the one: Decorations up the wazoo, holiday music blasting at all hours of the day and night. The one whose house sticks out like a sore thumb with all those stinking–er, blinking–lights. Sure, he’s crazy, but don’t let him get to you. (That’s exactly what he wants.) Instead, think of how high his electric bill will be. On another note, so what if you don’t crack open that box of St. Nicholas figurines your grandma left you in her will. Yes, you promised her you’d display them proudly each year. But, guess what? They’re nice and cozy tucked in their box down in the basement (or up in the attic), and they won’t mind waiting another year. Seriously.
- Help someone less fortunate than you. Maybe your life seems crappy, but just remember that someone always has it worse than you. That is not to discount what you’re feeling, but making a difference in someone else’s life can make you feel better about yourself. It takes your mind off its focus on you.
- Don’t stress over seeing Uncle Bob (or other annoying family member). Don’t want to see him (or her)? Then don’t. Just don’t go there. Why put up with the stress of seeing someone you don’t like? Life’s too short. Go to the movies instead.
- Ask for help. But be specific. Need help cooking or shopping? Ask a friend or family member. Tell them what sort of help you need. People aren’t mind readers, you know. We’re not that highly evolved yet.
- Some things are beyond your control. Do Dad and Uncle Frank always fight over who gets to carve the turkey? Remember, it’s them, not you. First things first: If you can safely take away the sharp fork and carving knife, then do so. Next, go to another room, sit down and breathe deeply. Don’t worry. They’ll work it out. They always do, right? It’s impossible to control every situation or person (nor would you want to). Your own reaction–now that’s something you can control.
- Create new family traditions. Maybe finding the pickle in the Christmas tree has reached its expiration date. It’s not fun anymore, is it? If you don’t enjoy the ritual, why keep doing it? ‘Tis the season to create a new one. As an example, my ex-husband and I used to celebrate LEON (NOEL, spelled backwards–we’re clever folk). Worked for us. The kids, not so much. After years of therapy, they’re fine–proof positive that kids can bounce back from just about anything. (Your healthcare insurance may provide coverage for just such an emergency. Read the fine print.)
- Celebrate the memory of loved ones. Holidays can be tough when you’re reminded of someone who isn’t around anymore, but think of it as an opportunity to celebrate them in spirit. Toast grandma. Bring her photo with you when you go out to dinner at her favorite restaurant. Prop her photo up against the salt shaker, facing you. She’ll be smiling down upon you, that’s for sure. (Well, at least from across the table.)
- Be picky. Don’t get overwhelmed by weeks and weeks of holiday festivities. Think about which parties you really want to attend. You don’t have to go to them all. Postscript: If you haven’t been invited to any parties, throw one for yourself and Puff. Living well is the best revenge. (Besides, who needs those people anyway?)
- Leave when you want. If that means stopping in for just a few minutes to say hello, then so be it. Giving yourself permission to leave at any time helps curb the anxiety.
- Safety in numbers. Arrange to arrive and leave with a friend, and that office party won’t seem so utterly awful. Having an ally and an escape plan can make all the difference.
- The ‘perfect gift’ is a myth. Don’t stress over finding the best gift ever. If you don’t know what to get someone, get a gift certificate. That’s what those things are for. The greeting card industry got one thing right.
- Shop online. One of my all-time favorite sports, shopping online is a godsend for people with depression. You don’t have to fight the crowds or waste time finding a parking spot. Best of all, you don’t have to put up with rude people and loud, smelly toddlers.
- Follow thy budget. Know how much you have to spend before starting to shop. And stick to it. Nothing is more depressing than overspending.
- Your normal routine is your best friend. Now is not the time to stay out late at parties or pull an all-nighter cooking or wrapping presents. The psyche can be a fragile thing. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Somehow that analogy fits here. I just know it.
- Exercise. If you’re like me, then you hate even the thought of exercising. Unfortunately, exercise is often the best way to banish anxiety or depression, at least for a while. Walk instead of driving. Take a few extra laps around the mall (assuming anxiety doesn’t prevent you from getting there). Chase the cats around your apartment. Be creative!
- Eat sensibly. Ha! Easier said than done, but it’s worth striving for anyway. All those holiday treats may be tempting, but overloading on sugar won’t help your mood, and you’ll only hate yourself more if you pack on the pounds. Having said that, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve just raided and emptied the cookie jar. Just get back on track tomorrow. Or wait until Lent (assuming you’re Catholic). That’s what Lent is for.
- Holiday substances won’t lift your spirits. People over-imbibe during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you should. Alcohol is itself a depressant and drinking too much will make you feel worse. And it may not be safe if you’re taking antidepressant meds. Just don’t go there. (If you do, certainly don’t drive.)
- Sun lamps are golden. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) plagues millions of people during the shorter winter days. Consider getting a sun lamp. It could improve your mood.
- Don’t miss your meds. Do not miss your meds. Do NOT miss your meds. If you’re like me and take antidepressant or bipolar meds–or both–don’t miss doses. Sure, it’s tempting, but that’s just another place you shouldn’t go. (Trust me on this one.) While you’re at it, make sure your refills are up to date, too. Now is not the time to run out.
- Have extra sessions with your therapist (if you see one). The holiday season is tough on people. (Now, there’s a “duh” statement, if I ever saw one. But I wrote it, and I stand by it.)
- Be kind to yourself. ‘Tis the season we dwell on our imperfections, mistakes, things we’re not proud of. Guess what? You’re human. Cut yourself some slack. Kindness and forgiveness goes a long way. Don’t forget to save some for yourself.
When all else fails, here’s the Suicide Hotline number: 1.800.SUICIDE (1.800.784.2433). I’ve called it myself. That’s what it’s there for.
Images copyright Federico Castellón (1914-1971).