It may seem like everyone is full of good cheer, happiness, and holiday spirit during the holiday season. If you’re feeling exhausted or down, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone during what’s supposed to be a joyful time of the year.
The reality is that more than 21 million adults and 5 million adolescents in the United States struggle with major depression.
As family medicine providers specializing in caring for every aspect of your health, the team at Midwest Regional Health Services in Omaha, Nebraska, includes two licensed mental health therapists working with patients on-site or remotely.
Our therapists work to help patients struggling during the holidays and all year long. From lifestyle adjustments to noninvasive, medication-free treatment, here are our top tips for dealing with depression during the holidays.
1. Pay attention to your symptoms
From added financial pressure to finding gifts to extra socializing, various stressors can trigger a major depressive episode during the holidays. Pay attention to your symptoms. If you notice they’re escalating, take steps early to manage them.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Chronic sadness or anxiety
- Feeling empty inside
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Losing interest or pleasure in things you usually enjoy
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Decreased libido
- Feeling fatigued and lacking energy
- Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Sleep problems (e.g., insomnia, waking up too early, oversleeping)
- Lack of appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Chronic restlessness or irritability
People with depression may also have physical symptoms that can’t be explained and don’t respond to treatment. These include headaches, digestive disorders, and pain.
2. Keep expectations realistic
It’s easy to get swept up by the idea of a greeting card holiday. But you'll always find the holidays lacking if you compare them to an abstract idea of the perfect holiday season.
Instead, keep your expectations reasonable and realistic. Remember that perfection isn’t the goal. Take the holidays as they come, and focus on positive experiences.
3. Use your support system
When your depression symptoms escalate, it’s tempting to self-isolate. Taking time to recharge by yourself can help, but research consistently demonstrates that social isolation and loneliness exacerbate mental health disorders.
Reach out to family, friends, and others in your support system. Keeping them close during the holidays helps lift your spirits and ensures you have someone to talk to if symptoms appear.
4. Keep holiday plans simple
People with depression often struggle with feelings of tiredness and fatigue. A full holiday calendar and a long to-do list can worsen these feelings — especially if they require lots of decision-making and concentration.
Try keeping your holiday plans simple and set small, achievable goals. For example, instead of baking and decorating a dozen types of holiday cookies, start with 1-2 and allow yourself to have fun while baking and decorating.
5. Maintain healthy habits
Regular exercise and a healthy diet help reduce the severity of depression symptoms. Get in as much regular physical activity as possible this holiday season. And while it’s OK to indulge in a few holiday treats, focus on foods and beverages that feed your brain in a good way.
Recent research concluded that plant-based, whole-food diets low in animal products lower the risk of depression. In contrast, diets high in dairy, meat, processed foods, refined grains, and sugars and low in fruits and vegetables increase the risk of a major depressive episode.
6. Seek professional help
If you notice your symptoms escalating this holiday season, seek professional help. Our mental health providers are here to help. Contact Midwest Regional Health Services today to schedule a virtual or in-person appointment.