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It's The Holidays, so Why Aren't I Happy?

During the holidays, there is pressure on us to be cheerful and happy all the time. We are expected to go on outings, attend parties, go shopping, decorate our homes, and keep a smile on our faces through it all. Our families and friends only want the best for us, but their expectations can feel overwhelming. If you suffer from depression, then all this cheerfulness can seem particularly difficult to cope with and make you feel like an outcast.

Conversely, maybe you are separated from your family either because you’re living apart, or because you are estranged. In either case, you may be left feeling lonely and depressed. Holidays are supposed to be filled with family and joy, right? Except when they aren’t. Then the holidays can be especially trying. But there are things you can do to help get you through to January 2. I hope that you find something here that is helpful to you.

Tips for Coping with the Holidays

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, or anxious with all the extra activity, admitting it to yourself might actually help a lot. You can’t force yourself to feel happy. Give yourself permission to feel exactly what you are feeling!

2. Self-care. I know this advice is given all the time and realize that you might be sick of hearing about it, but it’s good advice. Dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, or stress can be hard on your body and mind, so take care of yourself! Try to eat healthily, drink enough water, get some moderate exercise, a little fresh air, and sunshine, sleep for the full 7-8 hours that are recommended, and maybe take time for a mindfulness activity like meditation or deep breathing.

3. Set priorities. When I was younger, I used to love to wrap presents! I spent a lot of time making them look beautiful with ribbons, beautiful paper, bows, and toppers. But now, it just doesn’t do it for me anymore, so I stopped doing it. And that’s ok. If there’s something on your schedule that doesn’t bring you happiness and isn’t necessary, think about skipping it this year, or delegating the task to someone else.

4. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect! Nor are they usually, so don’t knock yourself out trying to make them so. Sometimes “good enough” is great! If you don’t have the energy to decorate the entire house, then don’t. Just do the room(s) where you will spend your most time and use the decorations that mean the most to you. The rest just doesn’t need to get done.

5. Reach out to others. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to someone you’re close to for support. We all need a little help from time to time and it’s ok to ask for it when you do. Sometimes, just the sound of a friendly voice can make all the difference.

6. Avoid alcohol. I know some of you won’t like this one, but alcohol basically is a depressant and may make your depressive symptoms worse. Try sparkling water instead and adding some fruit can make it look festive.

7. Learn to say “no”. During the holidays, there are a lot of demands on your time. Your family wants you to come to the yearly party and bring your famous chicken dip, your children want the latest toys under the Christmas tree, your co-workers want to go out for drinks, and your boss needs that report on his desk for the holiday break, your spouse wants you to do their shopping so they don’t have to and your mother-in-law wants you to wrap all her gifts to the family. You don’t have to do everything or be everything for everyone. Stop and figure out realistically what you can do and what you want to do and politely decline the rest. Your needs and your mental health are important too.

8. Set some time aside for yourself. Maybe you love to look at the holiday lights downtown, walk at night in the snow, or there’s a tea flavor that you can only get this time of the year. Whatever that thing is that brings you a little bit of joy this time of the year, make time for it. You are important and you are worth it!

9. Try something different. You are not bound to the traditions of your past. If it feels like it’s too much for you, find a new tradition to start! We’ve started getting takeout for most of our holiday meals. You’d be surprised how many restaurants now offer this service. Or you can go out to eat, take a trip out of town, go to the movies, have a white elephant rather than getting gifts for everyone, do a potluck with your family, or even make it a picnic (no house cleaning required!). The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

10. Reach out for help. If your depression seems like more than you can handle on your own, please reach out to a professional for help. Your doctor can be an excellent place to start, or if it is a crisis, dial 988 for the new 24-hour crisis line.

Closing Thoughts

The image portrayed to us of the holiday's pictures of happy people sharing a meal around a table filled with well-behaved children, pets, and guests. Our reality is often very different. If you’ve recently experienced a loss, are sad or depressed, have family problems, or have no family nearby, the holidays can be overwhelming and depressing. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you to enjoy the holiday season despite whatever particular challenge you are experiencing. If you’d like to talk to someone about this, or would like depression treatment, I am available and would love to hear from you- just follow the link!


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