Coping with Holiday Depression

Holiday night lighting
Slow shutter to catch the twinkling lights on a small tree and decorations sitting in the snow. Motion blur in the tree due to wind.

When we’re young, the holidays are nothing but a joyful time, full of lights and food and presents and playing with loved ones. But as we age, and work, bills, and expectations of preparing food or buying gifts can become overwhelming. We miss those we love more than usual: be it because they are no longer with us, or because we simply can’t travel to see them.

I miss my father the most during the holiday season. It’s so hard to be motivated to decorate or bake holiday goodies when I know I won’t be able to share them with him. Both my mom and my husband’s mom live several hours away, and due to work circumstances we won’t be able to visit either of them. Last year this was incredibly difficult for me. This year, I’m coming up with a plan. Here are some tips for coping that I’ve found:

  1. Acknowledge how you feel, and know that it’s okay to feel that way. Sometimes there’s extra pressure around the holidays to be happy and cheerful all the time. You can only feel how you feel, and the pressure to be cheerful can just make things worse. Accepting that you’re feeling down and that there isn’t anything wrong with that can help ease the pressure.
  2. Only do what you can do. There’s no reason to throw a crazy huge party if it overwhelms you. I often feel pressure to buy gifts for as many people as possible, but I just can’t manage it financially, so  I try to MAKE gifts for people, and that also becomes overwhelming. It’s very difficult to let go of the guilt when you truly want to give something to everyone. Accept that you can’t do everything for everyone, and keep your list short.
  3. Take time for yourself. If you need a day to spend practicing self-care, do so. I have a bad habit of only taking a day off when I’m really sick. Sometimes we need to use personal days for emotional health as well. Today’s my day off, and there’s a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish today, but I just feel like I can’t. I worked out and am eating healthy, but I just don’t have the motivation to clean like I wanted to, and that’s okay.
  4. Plan ahead. Okay, so it’s a little late for that in my opinion, but half of my Christmas gifts have been made since July. More will be made this week, and perhaps I’ll even pack and ship them by mid-December! I’m already planning our Christmas dinner, and keeping an eye on sales.
  5. Get out of the house. “But Andrea,” you may say, “I’m stressed out as it is!  Now you want me to stop doing things that need to be done to get out of the house?!” Yes. Get out. Volunteer somewhere. Spend time with friends doing something non-holiday related. Go out for a walk or run with no expectations of getting stuff done, just enjoy the season for what it is.
  6. Keep healthy habits. Workout on your normal schedule, eat your normal healthy meals, and try not to over-indulge on the food and alcohol that’s around every corner this holiday season. You may enjoy it while it’s going into your mouth, but poor eating can exacerbate feelings of depression, and you certainly won’t be happy with the number on the scale afterwards!
  7. Say no if you need to. I’ve already been invited to Thanksgiving dinner by four different people. It’s not that I don’t love all of them, but Thanksgiving is a day I like to have dinner quietly at home, and then go out to visit family for dessert. I enjoy cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and, working retail, it’s the only day off I’ll have all week. No four day weekend for this gal. Christmas parties will soon crop up all over, and I’ll have to pick and choose. It’s normal, and it’s okay.
  8. Don’t compare yourself to others. This one applies to every day life as well as the holidays. Just as another person has no idea how you feel inside, you have no idea how they feel. Someone could appear to be jolly and the life of the party, but be just as sad as you are on the inside. Each of us is different and we deal with things differently, and THAT’S OKAY.
  9. Honor your lost loved ones. Just because they’re gone doesn’t mean you have to leave them out of the festivities. I think this year I’ll write my dad a letter and leave it under the tree. I’ll tell him about all the things I know he’d have loved to hear about, things I know he’d be proud of. He was cremated, so I can’t leave flowers for him, but I can honor him in my way.
  10. Cry if you need to. Holding in those emotions only makes it hurt more. Let it out and let it go. 🙂
  11. Remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Many people struggle during this time of year. We’re bombarded with images of joy and happiness in the media, but this is false.

I hope this list helps some of you get through those holiday tough times. I know I’ll be referring to it myself this year when times get tough. We CAN make it through, I promise!

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7 comments

  1. Really, really good reminders – all of them! Sometimes, my friends just get a card from me. They understand, and are happy to hear from me. Sometimes I’m able to do more. It all depends on the circumstances. I really like the idea of giving something handmade, because it really comes from the heart!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Always good thoughts and smart advice from you my friend. And I am glad you take time for yourself, accept and honor your emotions. As for gifts, a card or phone call, a text message – just an “I thought of you”, is appropriate as a gift in itself!! Lots of love to you!! laurie

    Like

  3. It’s funny . . . . I was just thinking about your Dad the other day. How he died in the Fall and how hard it can
    be when big holidays follow such a huge loss. One is not ready to celebrate. I love all of your ideas for dealing with the sadness. Maybe most of all – embracing it. I like to say, “they are worth the pain – I had that
    much joy from having them.” And we carry them with us wherever we go and feel and cherish them more deeply than ever. We are happiest when we are doing what we enjoy; so it’s nice to think about what that is
    and incorporate it into our celebration (even if that “celebration” is a quiet evening with just one person or just
    ourselves.) It’s nice to take something we did like from our past, a treasured tradition, and weave it into our
    present day holiday. And as you said, certainly not make comparisons – we might actually hate doing what
    others adore doing! And lastly, if the opportunity arises, helping someone else. My son once restored his old
    bike for a young boy who would not be getting one from Santa, my husband fixed an old neighbor’s refrigerator to working condition. This year I’ve offered to store the tools of a man who will have to be moving
    into Section 8 housing in the new year. I’m not mechanical and can’t do electrical work, but I do have room
    in my basement and in my heart. Not having much money, I have found through the years, is a real blessing.
    It forces us to distill our lives into what really matters. Have fun – and kiss the pooch – as he has an inborn
    barometer of what’s important!

    Liked by 1 person

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