Travelling With Depression: Setting Goals
Muskin recommends setting goals for your vacation. "Start by thinking about the pleasures you are going to have on the trip. And then set goals for yourself and your family. Ask yourself and your partner," he says, "what it is you want to bring away from this trip."
Make sure the goals you set are attainable. For example, Muskin says, if you're going fishing, is your goal to catch the largest blue marlin in the Gulf, or is it to sit back, relax, and enjoy the outing with your partner or your kids? "If you have something you want to bring back from the vacation," he says, "especially if that's shared by other members of your family, you can stay focused on that and not get caught up in other things that really don't matter."
People with holiday depression can calm inner turmoil and anxiety by thinking ahead and planning, says Elaine Rodino, PhD, a psychologist in State College, Pennsylvania, and a fellow of the American Psychological Association. If you are traveling, she says, plan to do it as easily as you can. Pick travel days when there are fewer people traveling. Choose flight times so you can be at the airport when it is less crowded. Check weather alerts ahead of time, and check with the airlines to find out what their refund policies are in case of travel alerts. "That way you can avoid being stuck at the airport for 18 hours, which can make someone who is already depressed feel as if they are going over the edge," says Rodino.
Rodino also says it's important to get extra sleep and good nutrition before the trip and to plan to take food with you.
And think ahead, Rodino says, about where you're going and what's going to happen when you get there. "Are you going to see family and other people that you don't feel comfortable about being with? Think ahead and plan to spend more time with people you do feel comfortable being around."
When It's More Than Holiday Blues
An important part of setting goals and making plans, Muskin emphasizes, is anticipating the fun of the trip. "But sometimes people are in such a deep funk they can't imagine any fun. When that happens, it's worth talking to your partner about," he says. "Or talking with a close friend or a pastoral counselor or maybe even seeing a mental health professional."
Not being able to imagine enjoying anything is a sign your depression may be more serious than holiday blues. Seek help and treatment. "Clinical depression is an illness, and it's treatable," says Muskin. "But for some reason, people don't want to admit they need help. That's dangerous." To get around the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness or causes embarrassment, Muskin says think about how even the greatest athletes need coaches. "Tiger Woods has a coach," he says. "The greatest of the great aren't embarrassed to say they need help. It's the normal people who won't ask for help. And that's all a pastoral counselor or a mental health professional is. Someone who helps."
Being clinically depressed doesn't mean you can't go on your trip. But it's important that you keep doing what helps you feel better. Grusd suggests carrying a small card on which you've written down your strengths and what your coping techniques are -- whether that's taking a walk, listening to music, drinking a glass of water, or calling a friend. Then look at the card often to remind yourself that you can deal with your depression. Maintaining the same routine you follow at home, including taking any medications you normally take.