I know it’s predictable at this time of year, but I think it’s worth talking about some coping strategies for surviving Christmas with depression. Here are some ideas for how you can help minimise stress and prevent depression relapse over Christmas.
Don’t Worry about Making Christmas Perfect
When you look at television ads at this time of year, you see images of smiling, happy families, tables loaded with food, piles of presents under the tree and well-behaved children who never throw a temper tantrum, get tired or overstimulated. That’s just not the reality for most of us during Christmas. And when you have depression, it can be even more stressful if you internalise those messages and think that you’ve failed if your celebrations don’t look like the adverts. Everyday life doesn’t stop for the festive season, so don’t expect that suddenly the kids will be angels all day, the in-laws won’t criticise your cooking or Grandpa won’t crack inappropriate jokes at the table in front of your wife’s uptight sister. Similarly, try not to spend too much time on social media at this time of year, because as we know, too much Facebook can worsen depression because you are constantly looking at versions of people’s lives that are curated carefully for the public gaze. This often gets worse during the holidays as people want to project a “perfect family” image, but Christmas is just normal life with a few sparkly things and a turkey (or whatever your local tradition is). If you remember that, you can take the pressure off yourself to provide the commercialised version of the ideal Christmas. Don’t forget that perfectionism is bad for depression, so don’t let it take over this season.
What Activities Can Help Depression During Christmas?
Now that we’ve got the don’ts” out of the way, let’s talk about some of the “dos” that may help alleviate or prevent episodes of depression during Christmas.
I’m a big fan of getting outdoors. What’s really great about being a fan of getting outdoors is that quite a lot of other people aren’t, so if you are like me and need solitary time to recharge, being the kind of person who likes to get outside for a walk means that you’re more likely to get it than if you stay on the couch watching Christmas television. Not only will you get the endorphins (the feel-good chemicals) from the exercise, you’ll get to escape a little if being around people all the time is a strain on your mental health. We’re often thrown together with people we don’t normally spend a lot of time with during the holidays, so it’s understandable that can bring some issues. If you or a relative/friend have a dog, that’s always a great excuse to go out, and spending time with animals can be very therapeutic.
Volunteering can help build self-esteemthrough helping others and meeting different people, and volunteering at Christmas shifts your mindset if all the commercialism of the season bothers you (as it does me). There’s a balance to be had, though; it’s great to give something back to your community, but be aware that you may meet people with very difficult lives. Before you volunteer for something, therefore, research the opportunity and what it involves and ensure that you are comfortable with what you will be doing, both mentally and emotionally. If you think you might not handle it right now, why not look at some opportunities for the New Year? I’ve been too busy with work lately to contemplate volunteering this Christmas, although I have done before, because I’m a little burned out and need some recovery time; but, in January, when my work schedule will be calmer, I’ll be training as a helpline volunteer for a local mental health charity and that’s something positive to look forward to.
Self-Care for Surviving Depression During Christmas – Don’t Burn Out
Talking of the dangers of burnout, this is a busy time, so it’s easy to pack the schedule tightly and leave no time for self-care. It sounds harsh, but when you have depression, you have to prioritise activities at Christmas the same way you do the rest of the year. Saying “no” to some activities is okay – it really is. If it’s important to you to attend the local carol concert, for example, on Christmas Eve, then figure out what you have to do (or not do, as the case may be) during the rest of the day so you can go and enjoy it. I would like my fellow depression-battlers to remember that it is possible to enjoy this time of year, or at least parts of it, even with depression – and remember that you deserve to enjoy it as much as anyone else.
Be well and have a healthy holiday.