Simple Solutions to Life Blog

Depression, The Holiday’s Dirty Little Secret

For many people the onset of cheery Christmas tunes, twinkling lights, and holiday splendor signal a truly dreadful occurrence: the onset of holiday depression. Call it what you want, the Christmas blues, down in the dumps, being “Grinch-y”, the truth is that while many of us get revved up by the holidays, just as many are dragged down. Let’s lay a few things out to consider.
First of all, there is loss. A holiday can trigger a longing for a loved one that has passed, for a relationship that has fractured, for a time when things were different. At the holidays, every sense is engaged: from the smell of fresh baked cookies to the greenery strung throughout the city, and each of these can remind us that someone or something is missing. For the grief stricken, it is excruciatingly painful to see others be so happy. Some pretend that they are okay only to cry alone in the dark. My heart goes out to these souls with such suffering.
Then there are those of us who find the expectations overwhelming. Decorations, parties, gifts, cooking, cleaning, cards…it goes on and on. Some find this whirlwind exhilarating and take pleasure in the hustle and the bustle. Others see it as a never ending “to do” list and are overwhelmed. Add in a spouse or partner that is unwilling to help, “that’s your job,” and the depression soon begins to sink in. Include an additional component of anxiety, and you have yourself a fine recipe for deep depression.
Speaking of stress, here’s a shout out to all of you introverts. At the holidays everyone wants to visit, party, get together, basically have some facetime. For extroverts this is oh so awesome. For introverts this is like a prison sentence. Please remember that extroverts recharge their batteries by being around other people, however, introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. Office parties, friend gatherings, family visits soon become a dreaded obligation. Add in the sense of guilt when declining an event, especially an annual event with the expectation to attend, and you soon have the feelings of helplessness and depression. Your schedule seems to be out of your control.
Then there are the annual family issues. If your family is unhealthy, the obligation to see and enjoy them becomes a Herculaneum undertaking. Often families revert to childhood roles, dig up old slights, and in general fall into unhealthy patterns of behavior. Yikes, who would want to be part of that mess!
Lastly, there are just the basic seasonal changes. The cooling weather, the shorter days, the inability to spend some much needed time outside can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. There is a lot of sadness in SAD. What’s worse is that you can’t really put your finger on it. SAD creeps in like a thief and steals your joy and contentment.
Any of these things can trigger depression. If you have more than one, you are probably feeling pretty lousy during the holiday season. So what can you do? First of all, be honest with close family and friends. You do not need to tell everyone, but do seek help from those that you trust. If others ask what’s wrong you can simply tell them you aren’t feeling well…because you aren’t. For those with loss acknowledge your grief as a powerful testimony to your love. Take all the time that you need to process what you are going through. See if you can honor some old traditions, but build in some new, too. Ask for understanding from friends and family, they are there to support you. With time you will heal, but for now you just need to tend to the wound.
Everyone, let go of the expectations. Do what you want to do. Your holiday season absolutely should reflect what you want, not what your family expects, and not what your neighbors think your house should look like. Make sure you don’t schedule so many “to do’s” that you can’t get a little downtime to relax.
For my introvert friends, learn the power of saying “no.” If you do not take time to recharge with solitude, then you will overload, and that’s not fun for you or anyone else. If you can’t attend something because you need to be sitting at home watching A Christmas Carol for the 100th time, that is okay. That is what your body needs, and it is not an offense or affront to anyone else.
It’s really tough when your family is dysfunctional. You can’t change anyone else, but you can change yourself. Set strict boundaries, and stick to them. If old hurts come up, just tell everyone that now isn’t the time to deal with that, and you prefer to enjoy the season. If your family upsets you to the point where you really become ill with depression or anxiety, it is best to make plans to see them at another time of the year. Fill family time with fun activities that don’t allow the negativity to seep in. Watch movies, play a game, work on a craft together; try to encourage people to be light hearted. If someone refuses to join in the fun and remains inappropriate, call them on it. You are perfectly in your rights to say, “this conversation makes me uncomfortable.” Don’t engage in their drama, and don’t try to “win” any type of argument. If all else fails and you feel you need to leave, then leave.
For those struggling with seasonal changes, try to get as much time outside as you can. Talk to your doctor about your feelings of depression. Visit the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and soak in the beautiful tropical setting. Try to stick to a healthy sleep schedule and treat your body well with good nutrition and activity.
For those that do not suffer from depression, please step up to the plate. Listen, support, hug, and love those that are struggling. Avoid sentences that start with, “you should.” People with depression don’t want to feel this way. They are not seeking drama. They would do anything to get to a joyous spirit. So to get there they may need some space, they may need to cry, they may not make every gathering, and that’s okay. Let them know that you understand.
If your depression is disabling you or if you are feeling so down that you cannot keep yourself safe, please seek help immediately. There is no shame in reaching out for help. You can go to the emergency room or dial 9-1-1. Depression can truly distort your thinking, and you don’t want to give into momentary impulses when there are true solutions for you to feel better.
I wish everyone a joyous holiday season, please take the time to take care of yourself.