Feel like there’s not much to celebrate this holiday season? It’s normal for depression to intensify during the holidays, but there are healthy ways to cope – and even thrive – during the season.
It is little wonder that “the most wonderful time of the year” for many people is actually tremendously challenging. Between unrealistic expectations, the stress of getting out into holiday crowds and events, longstanding family issues, and a seasonal reduction in daylight hours, the holidays can be a truly difficult time.
For those already managing depression, this time of year often calls for some extra self-care and attention to your needs, as stressors and triggers for depression increase.Reaching out to your support system, managing expectations, and mixing up old routines can help build a safe space mentally for you to move through the season and into a better new year.
Common Stressors during the Holidays and Ways to Cope
Holiday emphasis on family, togetherness, and nostalgia can exacerbate existing tension or lingering trauma around these subjects. Figuring out how to best navigate the season while managing your depression depends on identifying clear and effective coping strategies. Here are some common causes of depression during the holidays, as well as some suggested ways to cope.
The picture-perfect image of family togetherness can be an unrealistic depiction of what is really happening during the holiday season. For people struggling in the aftermath of a divorce, or grappling with a newly “empty nest” after the kids have moved out, the holidays can feel very lonely. This feeling takes an extra toll if you are already dealing with depression.
One way to cope with this is to mix up your normal holiday routine. This might include sharing holiday events with friends, or volunteering your time to help others in need. You may choose to focus on non-holiday related events, like adding in a new exercise class or taking a trip somewhere away from the usual seasonal celebrations. By engaging your mind with something new and positive you can begin to rewrite your holiday experience to be a full, satisfying one despite life’s changes.
The loss of a loved one can be acutely painful during the holidays. Seasonal nostalgia and old memories can collide sharply with current realities, making this time especially difficult. You might also feel guilt if you do experience happiness despite that person no longer being there.
Allowing yourself the space to feel sadness or grief over the loss is an important part of the grieving and healing process. Setting the expectation for yourself early on that this season will include those feelings as well as those of happiness will help prepare you for the range of emotions you will experience in the wake of a loss. However, you shouldn’t feel guilty about also allowing yourself joy; celebrating life – of those you’ve lost, and those still here – will strengthen your good memories and give you the energy to move forward.
A major stressor during the holiday season is the typical uptick in family gatherings. Faced with dealing with family members with whom you may have a tense relationship, dysfunctional dynamics can create serious discomfort. You also might be pressured during this season to be accommodating despite others’ bad behaviour or past abuse. In addition to being exhausting and emotionally draining, these situations can trigger negative feelings and compound existing depression.
One way to cope is to rally your community of support. Identify family members or friends who can be with you as you navigate family events. Look for those who can listen, validate your feelings, and help you identify an appropriate time to exit a situation that is harmful for your mental health. If attending seasonal family events seems too difficult this year, this may be the time for you and your loved one to skip the gatherings and make other plans.
The holidays can be overwhelming in many ways; people often find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of spending, eating, and drinking. While some chalk this up to the festive nature of the season, for others this can stretch important and carefully set personal boundaries, adding to stress and contributing to depression.
Having a clear idea of how you’re engaging with the holidays this year will help you cope with these seasonal pressures. Set healthy targets for yourself that align with your comfort zone, and help manage the expectations of others by clearly communicating these. You may decide to forego gifts this year, instead sharing a heartfelt note or a home-cooked meal. Or, you might choose to celebrate with alcohol-free holiday mocktails. There are many ways to enjoy the season, but finding ways to do so that fit in with your needs is key to managing depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The seasonal change in sunlight can also play a significant role in exacerbating depression. Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression, is thought to be connected to a drop in the brain’s serotonin levels that occurs when the days are darker. Serotonin is a neurochemical that regulates mood, and the lack of it can lead to feelings of depression. Symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and oversleeping are common in people struggling with seasonal depression.
An important part of treatment for seasonal depression involves exposure to light. You can consciously increase your exposure to the sun by sitting close to windows, getting outside as often as possible, and making sure to open curtains and blinds. Even getting outside on cold or cloudy days can help reduce feelings of seasonal depression.
This may also be the right time to consider a trip to someplace warm and sunny. If you are struggling with the weather as well as the holidays themselves, a destination trip to a place where the usual Holidays are not on the agenda can be a welcome reprieve from depression. Joining a mental health retreat in a tropical locale can offer an added bonus of support and energy for a healthier and happier new year.
This Year, Celebrate Yourself at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers a unique, customised wellness experience for those looking to improve their mental health and change their lives for the better. Our programmes are designed to help you start feeling better immediately, providing a holistic approach to treatment that will address the causes of your mental health concerns, and strengthen your coping skills.
A Mental Health Retreat in Tropical Thailand
Our centre is conveniently located just outside the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Situated on a lush, tranquil riverbank, you will be able to relax and recharge in the warm sunshine far away from the stressors of home. Our centre offers 24-hour professional care, as well as resort facilities such as a swimming pool, massage room, meditation and yoga studio, and fitness centre.
Licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health and staffed by friendly, experienced Western-trained professionals, The Dawn offers a broad palette of treatment that includes the most effective Western psychotherapeutic techniques as well as proven Eastern wellness practices.
Consider celebrating yourself this year at The Dawn. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you overcome depression and embrace the new year.