“Chil­dren laugh­ing, peo­ple pass­ing, meet­ing smile after smile” stirs hap­py mem­o­ries of singing Christ­mas car­ols for some, but for oth­ers, the hol­i­days can be the most stress­ful and loneli­est time of the year.  The hol­i­days often present a dizzy­ing array of demands — shop­ping, bak­ing, and enter­tain­ing to name a few.  For those deal­ing with men­tal health con­di­tions like depres­sion or or anx­i­ety, the hol­i­days can be even harder.

Hol­i­day depres­sion can be mis­in­ter­pret­ed as being noth­ing more than the win­ter blues.  So, when it comes to the hol­i­days, peo­ple are more focused on their phys­i­cal health issues instead of their men­tal health issues. They are more inter­est­ed in los­ing weight than tak­ing care of their men­tal health.  Being unaware that there is a prob­lem can make hol­i­day depres­sion evolve into major depres­sion.  Coun­sel­ing and med­ica­tion are good avenues to seek if you are liv­ing with symp­toms of depression.

Here are 9 tips that you can use to help you with hol­i­day depression:

  1. Be real­is­tic – Hol­i­days change just as peo­ple change. Kids grow old­er, peo­ple move, and new peo­ple will become a part of your life.  Focus on those con­nec­tions, new tra­di­tions and remem­ber past hol­i­days with fond­ness while still enjoy­ing the one right in front of you.
  2. Sched­ule Some Down-Time – Even 15–20 min­utes a day to enjoy some qui­et time, take a bath, lis­ten to music or read a book can do won­ders for your stress lev­els. Plus, it’s ok to say no: you don’t have to attend every par­ty or fam­i­ly event.
  3. Don’t Iso­late Your­self – Look for ways that you can enjoy social con­nec­tions, even if you aren’t able to go home for the hol­i­days. If you are feel­ing lone­ly, ask a friend to come over for a heart to heart or vol­un­teer for some­thing that inter­ests you.
  4. Drink Only in Mod­er­a­tion – Alco­hol is a depres­sant and can exac­er­bate neg­a­tive feelings.
  5. Exer­cise Reg­u­lar­ly – While hit­ting the gym can be tough when you are stressed and busy, try going for a short walk. Did you know that exer­cise can help relieve symp­toms of depression?
  6. Focus on the Pos­i­tives – Today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present! Being pos­i­tive and prac­tic­ing grat­i­tude has a strong pos­i­tive impact on psy­cho­log­i­cal well-being. It increas­es self-esteem, enhances pos­i­tive emo­tions and makes us more optimistic.
  7. Keep Expec­ta­tions Man­age­able – Try to set real­is­tic goals for your­self and your fam­i­ly. Pace your­self.  Orga­nize your time and make a list and pri­or­i­tize the impor­tant activities.
  8. Let Peo­ple Close to You Know What’s Going On – Don’t try to hide your hol­i­day depres­sion from your friends and fam­i­ly. Hid­ing your prob­lem can make your men­tal health worse.  Instead, be hon­est with them and let them know what you are going through and make sure you let them know that you don’t expect them to make it better.
  9. Seek Pro­fes­sion­al Help if You Need It – You may find your­self feel­ing per­sis­tent­ly sad or anx­ious, unable to sleep, unable to face rou­tine chores or irri­ta­ble and hope­less despite your best efforts. If these feel­ings last for a while, talk to your doc­tor or a men­tal health professional.

Avoid beat­ing your­self up if you are not full of the “joy of the sea­son.”  With some plan­ning, self-care and social con­nec­tions, it’s pos­si­ble to tack­le depres­sion around the hol­i­days and still enjoy the sea­son.  Be gen­tle with your­self, have real­is­tic expec­ta­tions, and don’t aban­don your healthy habits just because it’s the hol­i­day sea­son.  By active­ly work­ing to man­age your men­tal health, you will be able to make the best of the holidays!

If you are expe­ri­enc­ing these symp­toms over a peri­od of sev­er­al weeks, you may be depressed. Talk­ing with a men­tal health pro­fes­sion­al or tak­ing a men­tal health screen­ing test can help you under­stand how well you are cop­ing with recent events. Seek help.