By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW
While our childhood selves may regard the holidays and new year as a time of wonderment, excitement, and fulfilment, our adult selves tend to let out a defeated sigh when we flip the calendar pages to December. This time of year often makes those with depression symptoms feel worse. When considering goals that went unmet, dark and dreary weather, social gatherings that you’d skip for two cents, and expectations that exceed reality, holiday time can feel like a kick when you’re down. Fear not; you can absolutely keep your mood in check and regain some of that holiday cheer. My top tips for managing depression symptoms are here!
1. It’s Just Another Day
The holidays, especially the New Year, are often a time of self-reflection. This is all well and good… until it’s not. If reflection is making you feel inadequate, disappointed, or like a failure, your depression symptoms will likely be triggered. This is when you can step back and realize what New Year’s Day truly is: Just. Another. Day. The idea that New Year’s is a time for reinvention or a time marker of your success (or lack thereof) over the past 365 days is a manmade concept. If you wouldn’t feel upset about your current life position if it was April 10th or July 25th, then there is no need to assign so much pressure on January 1st. If you’ve got goals and intentions for your life, consider the overall trajectory of how you’ve been doing and do not let the looming deadline of January 1st be your compass. Hey, it’s just another day.
2. You’re Not A Hostage
When invitations become obligations, the enjoyment is completely sucked out. While some things may seem non-negotiable, you have more say than you think. If work has been rough and the idea of socializing with your colleagues leaves you greener than the Grinch, ask yourself if you really need to go to the holiday party. Weigh out the risks verses the benefits. If you feel that the networking opportunities are too good to pass up, then consider it an investment in your future, put on your ugly Christmas sweater, and go. If it’s simply a get together that doesn’t help you in your career goals and would turn your soul black, politely decline. Remember: you are not a hostage. Unless it’s in your work contract, you are within your rights to decline and not give it a second thought. This also applies to Aunt Karen’s tree decorating party and your friends’ pub crawl. Go if you want, and say “no, thanks” if you don’t. The one important caveat? If you feel like you are hiding out due to depression symptoms and do not want to engage in any holiday fun, please check in with your mental health professional; changes in behaviours such as isolation may be a serious symptom of depression and should be professionally addressed.
3. Help Yourself
If you’ve been in session with me recently, you’ve probably heard me ask you if what’s on your mind is “helpful or unhelpful.” I’ve spent a lot of time considering what is healthy or unhealthy, and this is the 2.0 version of that concept. The idea of what is helpful to you is fluid and forever changing on a case-by-case or day-by-day basis. Play around with this. A good example of this is holiday meals. We all have a favourite holiday meal or dish. Mine is latkes (potato pancakes). Guys, these little balls of grease are dollops of heaven but make me feel lousy in the long run. On a run-of-the-mill Tuesday, if someone offers me a plate of latkes, I will decline. Why? Because it’s not helpful to me right then. I know I’ll feel gross and sick the next day. Offer latkes to me on Chanukah, and I’m down for a solid half-dozen. Why? Because to me, latkes are what makes my holiday special. They make me feel like I’ve celebrated. I’m okay with feeling so so tomorrow, because of the pleasure and sense of holiday they give me today. So, on Chanukah, latkes are a helpful choice because they feed my mental health. If you’re offering me my 12th latke, that is now unhelpful. I’ve celebrated, I feel good, and if I put myself over the edge by bingeing, all of that goes down the tubes. Indulging and bingeing are different, and it helps to remember this around the holidays. Apply this concept to everything and see how it helps you make choices: Is it helpful or unhelpful to take on another work shift right now? To stay at the party past midnight? To spend an extra $100 unexpectedly on a gift? To spend time with your parents when you’re livid with them about an unrelated issue? If it’s helpful, go for it. If it’s unhelpful… just say no.
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions can either contribute to depression symptoms or counteract them. Consider your plans and choices and let them feed your soul. Reconsider anything that doesn’t benefit you in some way. Happy Holidays!
**Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.