The holidays are a time to relax and share wonderful memories with loved ones, but it’s not all wonderful and warm for everyone.
This time of year can be a time of great stress and serve as a reminder of negative or traumatic times for many people who either are conflicted or scared about being around family, or have no real close family or friends with whom to celebrate.
But there are ways to cope during what can be difficult times.
The best strategy is to be proactive and to steps aimed at preventing an emotional turmoil. Here are 10 ideas:
- Don’t fight the feelings. Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. Just because it’s a time of cheer for many others doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to your sadness and grief, if someone has recently died, there’s an anniversary of a death or trauma or you can’t be with loved ones. Depression never gets better by trying to go against what is in your heart and often healing happens quicker by walking through the darkness.
- Resist the self-destructive impulses. For addicts and recovering addicts, December especially is a time when many relapse or dig further into their addictive hole wanting some kind of escape from the pain they feel, but something psychologists have demonstrated over and over again is that it escaping, especially through health-degrading substances, just makes things worse and that you’re in the long run better able to fight off what’s ailing you with a clean and sober mind. For active addicts, consider making December your time of new cheer by marking a new path toward recovery and greater well being.
- Play with the changes. Your holiday celebrations don’t have to be stressful because you want to keep them just like they’ve always been as children get older and family members change, as do traditions and rituals. Choose a few you want to keep, but stay open to making news ones. Improvise and you can reduce the stress you’d normally face.
- Be open to love. The holiday season often invokes in people compassionate giving, so extend that to being more loving and accepting of family members and friends, especially those who don’t live up to our expectations. Be willing to, at least for a day, set aside grievances and address them later for a more appropriate time. Also foster that compassion you are fostering for yourself about your holiday stress and depression by realizing other people are facing it too. Love really can set you free.
- Remain frugal. One of the biggest stressors for people, especially addicts, recovering addicts and those with mental illness who may not have a lot of money. Before you go out shopping for food and gifts, figure out how much you have to spend and then stick to what’s in your budget. Your loved ones are gonna be more grateful for spending time with you than getting many or expensive gifts. Other alternatives:
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
- Give homemade gifts.
- Get gifts at the thrift store.
- Some food banks and charities offer free toys for children.
- Start a family gift exchange.
- Plan ahead. Rather than being caught off guard and feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do to make the holidays a great time for yourself and others, plan out your days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Write down your menus and shopping list ahead of time to prevent any last-minute scrambling and don’t neglect to enlist the help others to help you with preparation for parties and festivities. Not only will it help you not have to carry all the burden, but it’s a great time for bonding with loved ones.
- You don’t have to say yes to everything. It’s not always easy to say no to every familial and friend activity people want you to attend, but you have to be proactive about taking hold of your mental health and preventing resentment and overwhelmed by saying no to some things you just don’t have the capacity for. If the people care, they’ll understand. Again this is where keeping a schedule can be beneficial.
- You don’t have to be alone. For many the holidays are a sad time if they’re away from family or friends, or if they really have none, but that doesn’t mean you have to sulk at home. Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, go to some public events and try to spark up conversations with people likely to be in a compassionate, charitable mood already. Check out some Meetups in your area. One of the best ways to combat depression is to get outside of your home and just talk to other people, as there are likely many other people in your area in your same predicament who would love to be around you.
- Keep and foster healthy habits. For many the holidays can be a time for overindulgence, especially for addicts, and that only adds to the stress and guilt. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Some suggestions:
- Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
- Keep a journal or see your therapist regularly to vent but also to keep track of your thinking and stay objective
- Find healthy replacements for your favorite vices, or moderate on the unhealthy foods that pervade holiday parties if you can.
- Take a breather. For some the holidays can mean time feeling the need to people please and you can only do so much before you’re tapped out. Make some time for yourself. You can spend just 15-30 minutes by yourself without distractions, perhaps meditating and cultivating mindfulness that is going to make the season so much less stressful in general and give you greater capacity to handle everything you have to do. Remember to slow your breathing and just be with your inner experiences can quickly reduce stress. If you find the stress getting to be too much regardless of your self-care, do not hesitate to seek out professional help.