The holiday season is supposed to be the happiest time of the year: cheery Christmas music playing everywhere you go, festive decorations on every block, holiday parties, traditions, and lots of tasty treats. But for some people, the holidays can trigger an onslaught of depressive symptoms.
Whether you struggle with depression year-round or just get blue this time of year, there are some ways you can combat these negative feelings. We spoke to mental health experts, who detailed the 11 best ways to combat holiday depression. If your mood continues to get worse or you experience any of these symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, it might be time to visit a doctor or mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or licensed therapist.
Holidays are incredibly stressful for everyone, especially if you put pressure on yourself for everything to be perfect. Bernard Davidson, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, said it’s important to remain practical during this time of year.
“Remember that the holidays are not about everything being perfect,” he said. “Keep your expectations in line, and try not to compare yourself to others. Relax and stay focused on the real meaning of the season: quality time with friends and family.”
Don’t Try to Think Positive Thoughts
This may sound counterintuitive, but switching your brain from depressed, negative thoughts straight to positive ones isn’t always easy – otherwise, you wouldn’t be feeling depressed in the first place.
Psychotherapist Ava Diamond, LCSW, creator of Mental Fitness & Nutritional Psychology Coaching, said to instead think about neutral thoughts and to neutralize thoughts with facts.
“If you are seeing life through a depressed lens, you can still focus on something that you believe to be true that is simply neither positive nor negative,” she told POPSUGAR. “Usually, I suggest that the fact be something about yourself that you know is accurate, such as, ‘I have gotten through holidays before, and this will be over in a couple of days.'”
Take Breaths and Meditate
Even if you don’t have a routine meditation practice, taking a few minutes to breathe deeply and be mindful can make a difference.
“Allow yourself a few minutes each day to close your eyes and take a few long, slow breaths,” Alyssa Adams, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and life and relationship coach, said. “Imagine what you want your day to feel like. This momentary break will allow you to relax and recenter before moving through the rest of your day. This can also be a helpful tactic when you’re in a stressful situation.”
Give Back to Others
This time of year is rife with opportunities to volunteer, give back to the community, or just commit acts of kindness. Not only are you helping out people around you, but it can also boost your mood.
“Engaging in acts of kindness has been demonstrated to improve mood,” licensed psychologist Kristin Bianchi, PhD, told POPSUGAR. “Doing nice things for other people helps us feel better about ourselves.” She recommends using organizations such as Volunteer Match to find opportunities in your area that fit your skills, schedule, and resources.
Give Yourself Credit
When you’re feeling depressed, it’s easy to get down on yourself and count yourself out. Instead, focus on what you did accomplish; Dr. Bianchi recommends making a daily “credit sheet” where you list out anything over the holidays you did that you can be proud of yourself about.
“Remind yourself that it takes perseverance, strength, and courage to participate in the holiday season while suffering from depression,” she said. “Notice the examples of your own resilience and make sure to write them down.” She added that since people with depression rarely remember their own positive actions, it’s important to jot them down in a journal or on your phone as soon as they happen.
With the days getting shorter and the sun setting by 4:30 p.m., it’s easy to fall into a seasonal depression. If your mood is impacted by the weather, try going outside when the sun is out every day, recommends licensed clinical psychologist Jana Scrivani, PsyD.
“If you notice a persistent downturn in your mood that coincides with the Winter season, it may be time for an evaluation with a licensed mental health professional,” she said, as it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Luckily, professional treatment is available.
Choose Booze Mindfully
With holiday parties, dinners out, and reconnecting with family and friends, it seems like booze is everywhere this time of year. Although your booze intake may increase and you feel good in the moment, it can be detrimental in the long run.
“Alcohol is a nervous system depressant, and it may leave you feeling more blue than before you started,” said Dr. Scrivani. “You don’t have to accept every drink that comes your way; a simple ‘no thanks’ should suffice.” She suggests choosing a limit for yourself and alternating alcoholic drinks with water or seltzer. “Your brain and body will thank you,” she said.
Maintain a Routine
This time of year really throws off your daily routine, especially if you have an extended break from work and kids out of school. Without a set structured time to get up and obligations, it can be easy to get thrown off.
“Try your best to maintain some sort of a routine during the holiday season, being particularly mindful of maintaining healthy sleeping and eating routines,” Dr. Scrivani said. Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, schedule a structured activity like a workout class, and generally try to keep a routine.
Sticking to a regular workout routine won’t just keep you on schedule and help you burn off some extra holiday calories; it will also help improve your mood, explained Dr. Adams. She recommends scheduling workouts on your calendar so you don’t miss them. One way is to sign up for workout classes so you have to go at a set structured time.
If you don’t have time to go to the gym, try one of our 20-minute workouts. Even just grabbing a friend and walking around the block can be good. Any movement that gets your heart rate up and has you sweating will give you those feel-good endorphins to feel better this holiday season.
Learn to Say No
The holidays can be hard for people-pleasers: we want to say yes to every party invite, volunteer for everything at our kids’ schools, and take on much more than we can handle. It’s OK to set boundaries.
“It’s very easy to allow ourselves to become too overwhelmed this time of year, and it’s OK to not accept every invitation that comes your way,” Dr. Scrivani said. “Before automatically RSVPing yes, ask yourself: Do I actually want to attend? Do I actually have time to attend? Will attending negatively impact my mental health? Then you can mindfully make a decision that will be the best for you.”
Take a Break From Social Media
You may think mindlessly scrolling the ‘gram will make you feel better, what with all the perfectly posed photos in front of Christmas trees and strategically placed glasses of mulled wine. In reality, social media can seriously eff with your mood.
“Even on an uneventful day, social media can have a profound negative impact on our mood and self-esteem,” Dr. Bianchi said. “It evokes an automatic tendency to engage in a thought process called upward social comparison, wherein we perceive others to be superior to ourselves. This tendency is particularly pronounced in people suffering from depression.”
And the holidays are rife with over-the-top posed and carefully edited photos of perfect families, ideal decor, and the most fun friend gatherings. She recommends deleting social media apps from your phone entirely and logging out of them on your computer. Instead, focus on activities that don’t involve screens.
Author: Christina Stiehl