Coping with Depression over the Holiday Season
While Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah holidays fill most of us with
hopes of joyous reunions and celebrations, millions of people await the coming
holiday season with a mixture of anticipation and dread. For, in addition to
the happy anticipation, holidays can bring back memories of loved ones who have
died, lost friendships, and earlier celebrations at
happier times in our lives. When the family sits down to dinner together, many
of us are keenly aware that someone we love is missing.
We are all susceptible to the holiday blues to some degree; however, for
people struggling with depression, the holidays can be a particularly difficult
Why is depression likely to occur
during the holidays?
The holiday season creates additional stress in our lives that can make it
difficult to cope. For some of us, the stress is related to financial pressure.
Others struggle to create a perfect family celebration that lives up to
long-standing traditions, even in the face of changes that make this goal
impossible to achieve. Families of divorced parents often experience a unique
set of pressures and stresses relating to where children will be spending the
holiday. And in many families there are certain members who are far away from
home and cannot be with the family over the holidays.
Are there unique stressors for people
with a history of depression?
Yes, people who struggle with depression are especially vulnerable around
the holidays. It's not uncommon to hope that the holidays will make our
problems disappear and when this doesn't happen, the disappointment can feel
overwhelming. Extended families may come together to celebrate once or twice a
year, and for some people these interactions are stark reminders of family
dysfunction and rivalries. Loss of self-esteem and feelings of failure are
exacerbated and sometimes the result is emotional crisis. Even the blending of
family traditions from families newly united can cause anxiety and stress.
What can be done if I am (or someone
in my family is) feeling especially sad or anxious about the upcoming holidays?
Talk about it. If you are feeling
sad, talk about your fears and concerns with a supportive friend or family
member. And sit down with your family ahead of time to try and set
realistic expectations about holiday activities and gift giving. This will help
to relieve the pressure and avoid the feeling that you are responsible for
other people's happiness. Finally, if you are being treated for depression, you
might want to talk to your therapist about increasing your visits during the
What if I have to be apart from my
loved ones over the holiday?
If you live far apart from someone you love, make a firm plan to talk over
the phone on the holiday. Make plans to do a group activity if you are going to
be alone on the holiday: do something that engages you in the act of giving,
such as volunteering at a soup kitchen. And finally, do something for yourself
on that day, whether it is a long walk in a beautiful setting or a luxurious
Consider celebrating without alcohol.
For people with alcohol addiction, the holidays can be especially difficult.
Many families give and receive gifts of alcohol and in some families, there is
toasting with alcohol and wine served with dinner. Families can help by
replacing alcoholic beverages with sparking juices. If you are coping with
alcohol addition, it is very important to be in touch with your sponsors and to
be especially active in your recovery at this time of year. You don't have to
go it alone.
What if I find myself in acute
We all deserve to share in the blessings of this special time of year. Being conscious of the pitfalls of trying to create the perfect
family celebration and anchoring our expectations in reality can help us.
But if things get out of hand over the holidays, in spite of your good
intentions, reach out for help.
If you are in acute distress, you can call the Crisis Line in Tompkins County at 272-1616 at Suicide Prevention
and Crisis Service. Or you can speak to someone in the Behavioral Services Unit
at Cayuga Medical Center
by calling (607) 274-4304. Both phone lines are confidential and are answered
24 hours a day, every day, including holidays.