The holidays can be a time of joy or a time of sorrow and depression. Believe me, I know. I’ve struggled through more than one holiday. But for me, Christmas is the holiday that can bring me the most joy or the most depression. And no matter how prepared I think I am, or how many strategies I use, being depressed for the holidays sucks. The common response is to count your blessings, but how do you do that when everything seems like it adds to your burdens?
Acknowledge Your Feelings
For me, for a very long time, I was in denial because when you say you’re sad or you’re overwhelmed; we consider it whining or complaining. People say, ‘Count your blessings,’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I am, but I’m still sad…’Karen Civil
It’s okay to be sad or overwhelmed or depressed at the holidays. If it’s your first holiday without a loved one, it’s particularly difficult.
No matter the why of your depression or sadness or overwhelm, say it aloud. I’m sad. Say it when you’re alone at first. Other people often get uncomfortable when you tell them you’re sad. So until YOU are comfortable saying it aloud, say it in private. When you’re ready, say it to people you know and trust. It gets easier. And it helps to say it, to acknowledge it.
All the well-meaning advice in the world can’t make it better. Only YOU can make it better. It’s not easy. It will not make this week’s holiday times joyful for you. But give yourself time and it will get better. Piece-by-piece you can pick yourself up. Each piece will get a little lighter.
You may never feel the same holiday joy you once had again, but you CAN find a way back to joy.
Years ago, I struggled to find a way through the holidays despite my grief over a bad family situation. I could not face making Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, I told my ten-year-old-son we’d go out to eat on Thanksgiving. He could choose the place. (I assumed he’d want to go to a Thanksgiving buffet.) He wanted spaghetti.
And you know what? We went to an Italian place and had spaghetti. It was okay. We had a nice dinner, and I didn’t feel like a terrible mom. And while I didn’t feel that special Thanksgiving feeling, it helped to be in a festive place doing something different.
Count Your Blessings
Many people are uncomfortable with your feelings. They don’t want you to be depressed for the holidays as if that somehow ruins their holiday. Let them be uncomfortable. But also remember to count your blessings.
There’s a woman I know who has cancer. They told her she’d be dead in months. You know what she does? Every morning she wakes up and puts a “take that, mortality” post on Twitter.
You can adapt that. “Take that, depression. I’m still here. I’m still fighting.” What a blessing to do that. No, it doesn’t feel like a blessing to you right now, but it is. Say it until you can believe it. Say it until it brings you that fierce survivor joy to you.
Talk to Someone
Talk to a trusted friend (I’m fortunate enough to have several very good friends who listen well.)
Call the suicide prevention lifeline. Don’t feel suicidal? It’s okay. Call them anyway. They will listen. If you want help, they can help you find it.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.
If that’s not for you, find a clergyman or a doctor or a therapist to talk to. Heck, talk to your dog or cat—talk to whoever or whatever you can be honest with. Tell them, I hate this situation or this person for putting me into this situation. You can say I feel bad, I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m depressed.
Pretend that your situation is temporary. Temporary isn’t just a twenty-four-hour period. Temporary may be longer than you want it to be. But it’s not forever. It’s not permanent. Pretend that you can get through the next 24 hours. That’s all you need to worry about right now.
If that’s too much, bring it down to one hour. All you have to do is to survive the next hour. And then the next. At the end of that 24 hours, you’ve done something incredible. You’ve survived something you thought would kill you. You’ve bravely faced down and survived each of 24 hours. Good job. Keep up the good work. And it is work. But one day, you’ll discover you aren’t pretending anymore.
Take a Deep Breath
Friends, I’m okay. I am depressed and sad and overwhelmed. But please don’t respond with sympathy or support for me. I know I have your support.
I’m posting this for anyone else who is struggling with guilt and anger and sadness. Anyone who isn’t into the spirit this season. Those who have got things going on that are using up their energy, eating away at their joy, and feel like mountains they cannot climb right now. That pain, sorrow, or depression stretches on for months and months and feels as if it will never end. If that describes you, please stop a moment. Take a deep breath. I get it. I really do.
The hardest thing in the world to do when you’re depressed, sad, or overwhelmed is to see any blessings to your situation. It sucks to be depressed for the holidays. I know. I’m right there with you. But I have been here before. I also know that I do have blessings. And I know you do too. Count your blessings. Even if you don’t feel them. Even if you can only think of one thing. Reach out for help. That’s a blessing. And one day you will know that you have blessings to count each and every day.
Excellent advice, as always! It is definitely a problem for many, and you’ve offered some great perspective.