Feeling down during the holidays can be tough, especially since you seem so
out of step with the world. Everyone else seems to be beaming, ruddy-cheeked,
bursting with holiday spirit. You’re feeling wretched and exhausted.
But here’s something to cheer you up the next time you’re stuck in a room of
revelers at a holiday party: Plenty of them are probably unhappy, too.
The 20-something couple, married just a few years, was eagerly looking
forward to the birth of their first baby.
Labor and delivery went fine, and the baby was born healthy. But problems
began when the new mom, overwhelmed by motherhood, suffered depression.
"The husband had to take care of everything," recalls Joan R. Sherman, MFT,
a licensed marriage and family therapist in Lancaster, Pa., who saw the couple
in counseling. When he was at work, he worried that his wife was so
“I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of
the year,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on
Mental Illness. “They’re just straight up miserable, and that’s not only for
people with clinical depression.”
So if the family gatherings, the endless parties, and the shopping get you
down, you’re hardly alone. But people with depression -- or who have had
depression in the past -- need to be especially careful when coping with
holiday stress. While it might take some conscious effort on your part, you can
reduce stress -- and maybe even find some holiday joy, too. Here are some
Finding the Holiday Spirit: Emotions
1. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the
holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel.
If you’re comparing your holidays to some abstract greeting card ideal, they’ll
always come up short. So don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays
as they come.
2. Do something different. This year, does the prospect of the usual
routine fill you with holiday dread rather than holiday joy? If so, don’t
surrender to it. Try something different. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant.
Spend Christmas day at the movie theater. Get your family to agree to skip
gifts and instead donate the money to a charity.
3. Lean on your support system. If you’ve been depressed, you need a
network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough, says
David Shern, PhD, president and CEO of Mental Health America in Alexandria, Va.
So during the holidays, take time to get together with your support team
regularly -- or at least keep in touch by phone to keep yourself centered.
4. Don’t assume the worst. “I think some people go into the holidays
with expectations so low that it makes them more depressed,” says Duckworth. So
don’t start the holiday season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the
holidays as they come and limit your expectations -- both good and bad -- you
may enjoy them more.
5. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to
live up to holiday tradition. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof
this year? So what if you don’t get the special Christmas mugs from the crawl
space? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to
your holiday spirit.
6. Volunteer. Sure, you may feel stressed out and booked up already.
But consider taking time to help people who have less than you. Try
volunteering at a soup kitchen or working for a toy drive. “You could really
find some comfort from it,” says Duckworth, “knowing that you’re making a small
dent in the lives of people who have so little.”