Ten Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Depression

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • I just got back from shopping on Black Friday, the day after Christmas. It's called Black Friday because it's the first day of the year that retailers (potentially) start seeing black ink on the balance sheet instead of red. For almost anyone else, unless you're suffering from the holiday blues, Black Friday is the beginning of the the holiday season, full of gift-giving, parties, lots of yummy food and family togetherness.

    For anyone with depression, however, Black Friday might be thought of as the official start of one of the worst times of the year. Not only are there so many more demands on your time, energy and finances (often an issue for anyone with depression), but there's also an increase in potential irritants like holiday music, crowds and commercialism (which is depressing to everyone).
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    But never fear. Santa Deborah is here to give you a gift: my tips for making it through the holiday season with depression. I figure, conservatively, that I dragged myself through about ten Christmases with one form of depression or another, and I developed some coping mechanisms along the way.

    1. Shop online as much as possible. I still shudder when I think about the fact that I worked in retail during a couple of Christmases before my depression was diagnosed and treated. I have no idea how I did it. Malls during the holidays are absolutely horrible when you're depressed. The crowds, music, blinking decorations - it's like a hell that's tailor-made for depressives. Why put yourself through that? Shopping online is so much easier. No problem with finding a parking spot or driving from store to store trying to find the right gift in the right size. Yes, you have to pay shipping costs, but it's well worth it when you factor in the cost of gas alone. If you normally enjoy the experience of shopping during the holidays, remember that there are more holiday seasons to come when you're not depressed.

    2. If you must shop in the real world, do it as early in the day as possible and be organized. I know that being organized can be tough when you're depressed, not to mention dragging yourself out of bed. But it's worth the effort. Make yourself a list of the gifts you want to find for each person and make sure you know the right sizes ahead of time. If you have trouble getting out of bed, just picture what the stores will be like later in the day. That ought to get you out of bed and out the door pretty effectively.

    3. If the commercialism of the season is getting you down, why not send a gift that will make a difference? At Heifer International you can give a gift of an animal to a needy family in someone's name. If you send an ecard from TreeGreetings.com, you can choose to have a tree or grove of trees planted. These gifts are one size fits all and they make everyone feel good.

    4. Consider skipping sending cards, unless it's something you really enjoy doing. Most people have trouble getting holiday cards sent out when they aren't depressed, so why try to do it when everything's an effort? Or, if you decide to send them, just sign them instead of trying to write something upbeat.

  • 5. Scale back on your decorating - and don't feel guilty about it. If you normally decorate everything in sight, limit yourself to a tree and a wreath. Don't sweat it - does the quantity of your house's holiday swag really determine whether you're a Grinch or not?
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    6. Stay away from alcohol. Seriously. Even if you normally drink socially, if the holiday season is making your depression worse, then the last thing you need is alcohol. Remember that alcohol is a depressant. It may not feel that way, since it initially relaxes you, but it ultimately will be detrimental to your mood.

    7. Under no circumstances should you host any events. Use whatever excuse you have to in order to get out of it. Promise to do it two years in a row when you're feeling better, because trust me, it's a bad idea. Even if you manage to pull things off perfectly, there will be a high cost to your peace of mind.

    8. If you don't have a therapist, find one, at least on a short-term basis. It's crucial at this time of the year to have someone objective to talk to. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might be helpful if you're committed to banishing negative thoughts when they crop up. Talk to your doctor to figure out what's right for you.

    9. If the usual holiday music is grating, try listening to classical or jazz renditions of carols. I have a Starbucks Holiday Baroque Music album that's one of my favorites, depressed or not.

    10. One of the worst things about the season is that everyone and everything seems to be saying that you should be enjoying yourself, so of course that makes you feel guilty. Don't. Please remember that you have an illness. Just think of it as having the flu. You wouldn't expect too much of yourself if you were laid up with the flu. Just do what you can. As far as other people are concerned, depending on how much you want to tell them, you can either say that you're having a tough time because of your depression or just say that you're really stressed because of everything that needs to be done. Almost everyone can relate to feeling that way.
Published On: November 25, 2007