Surviving the Holidays When Depressed

The song calls it the “most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, the Christmas season is anything but. Whether someone has battled depression for a long time or recently suffered a loss, the holidays can be difficult to weather.

Depression is a real disease affecting an estimated 19 million Americans. Depression may be caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Some people don’t even realize they are depressed. Some of the signs include difficulty concentrating; fatigue and decreased energy; feelings of guilt, helplessness or hopelessness; sleeping troubles; loss of interest in favorite activities; overeating or appetite loss; persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety; and thoughts of suicide.

I encourage you to talk to your medical provider if you think you may be depressed – it’s not a sign of weakness. Also, if you have a family member who you think may be depressed, reach out to him or her and encourage them to talk with their family doctor. There’s a lot that can be done if you suffer from this disease.

With the holidays approaching, there some things you can do if you’re depressed to make them more manageable. Here’s a few ideas:

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone recently died, realize it’s normal and OK to feel sad and cry. Forcing yourself to be happy will just make you feel worse.

  • Help others. Reach out and get involved in community or religious volunteering activities. By helping someone else – even if it’s buying a toy and donating it to Toys For Tots, you’ll feel better since you know you’re making someone else’s day brighter.

  • Maintain healthy habits. If you exercise daily, continue doing it. If you don’t exercise, consider adding a simple walk to your daily schedule. Studies show exercise releases endorphins that make you feel better. In addition to keeping up with daily exercise, don’t go overboard on the holiday treats and sweets. They won’t make you feel better; in fact, you may even feel worse.

  • Don’t overindulge in alcohol. Drinking to feel better or forget does not work. Like with eating too much, you’ll just end up feeling worse.

  • Take a breather. You don’t need to say yes to every invitation that comes your way, but at the same time don’t say no to everything because you’ll don’t feel like going. Strive to find a healthy balance.

  • Take time for yourself. In this busy holiday season, this can be a hard one, but try to carve out time to do something you enjoy, such as seeing a movie or reading a book.

  • Be realistic. Not all holiday celebrations are big, wonderful events. Don’t have overly high expectations that everything will be magical.

Please know you are not alone. You have family members and friends who care about you. Reach out to them and your medical provider if you can’t shake your feelings of sadness. I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and happy and healthy new year!

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.