While the number of suicides is at its lowest in December, the number of people who report symptoms associated with depression is at its highest. During the holidays, many of my clients report new symptoms of depression, including:
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Inability to make decisions
- sadness or unhappiness
- Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
- not wanting to be around other people
One of the most common issues my clients struggle with during the holidays is that of managing expectations about people, events, and feelings. Many people have beliefs about the holidays that are simply not true, such as:
It is the best time of the year.
Everyone will show their love for everyone else.
Family will all gather together and feel only joy.
Carefully chosen presents will be appreciated.
My partner is going to give me that gift I have always wanted.
I am going to love going to 12 cocktail parties.
I have to eat and drink all that is offered.
I am going to use this family time to “fix” all our problems.
I can get by with only 4 hours of sleep.
This tree and my decorations are so fabulous, everyone will know and appreciate how hard I worked.
It is OK to stay up until 3:00am on a work day, because I have to have 4 dozen decorated cookies.
My child will not be able to survive if she does not get DaisyDoItAll Doll.
Everyone else is going to parties every night, I am only invited to one.
I lied to my friend and told her I was busy the night of her party, now I feel guilty.
Why is everyone else have such a great time, and I am miserable? What is wrong with me?
This list goes on and on. What are your expectations for the holiday time? Do you share any of the above beliefs? Your therapist may be able to help you see the connection between these unreasonable expectations and your symptoms of depression.
Some things you can try to help prevent falling into the holiday depression cycle are:
Plan ahead, make a schedule.
Only say “Yes” when you want to say “Yes”. Be okay with saying “No”.
Get your regular number of sleep hours each night.
Let go of Perfection, you can buy cookies at the store, eight strands of lights on the tree are enough.
Prepare a neutral response to conflictual situations, especially with family members.
Don’t expect anyone to behave in a way significantly different from the way they behaved last year, the holidays are not a good time to do a family “intervention” or “rescue”.
Don’t expect a partner of friend to be able to read your mind and deliver the perfect gift.
Create activities that you truly enjoy, even if they are outside your usual holiday traditions.
Challenge yourself to set realistic goals for your holiday time. Remember, there will be things that do not go as planned. Try to enjoy the good times.