Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Coping with the Holidays

Don't you just love seeing all the holiday decorations around town?  Everywhere you go, there are Thanksgiving and Christmas themes.  A blowup turkey here, a Christmas tree there, the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas debate.  Then there is the endless ideal image of what the holidays are supposed to look like, including the red and orange of fall, the bundled up kids, snow on the streets, a long table lined with family down either side, a lighted Menorah, and the presents under the tree.  These are all images that are meant to evoke the emotion of happiness, thankfulness, and content.

However, many people struggle with the holidays.  Some struggle because they recently lost a loved one and the table feels empty without them.  Others become overwhelmed with the crowds and noise.  Whether you find yourself depressed from the season change or you simply have no positive memories of the holidays, we all have a choice in how we react to the negative emotions.

For me, I dip in and out of depressions throughout the year, but they are typically more severe and persistent during the winter months, beginning about mid-November.  As you might expect, this frequently affects my ability to enjoy the holiday season.  I look forward to seeing my family and having that break, but many times it comes with unreasonable expectations.  Though the last few years have been much better, I am going in prepared this year!  I choose to do all I can to ensure I engage in practices that help maintain a positive mood and environment.  Here are a few things you might consider as well.
  1. Enlist support
  2. Make a plan. Options include (but not limited to):
    • Enlist the help of loved ones. In my case, my hubby is helping me in this "quest"
    • Brainstorm ways to fight depressive situations.  In my case, I am not allowed to spend hours in front of the TV.  Yes, I can have football on, but actively staring at the screen for 12 hours only fuels depression. 
    • Keep occupied/busy, but not so busy that you overwhelm yourself.  It is a fine balancing act to find just the right amount of activities to keep you positively stimulated, but not so much that you can't take a break if wanted. For me, this includes things like playing card/board games, helping* prepare the meals, plenty of reading material, and adoption paperwork.  These are all activities that can be stopped somewhat easily.  Note: helping means not being the sole person responsible for the meal.  You are simply helping when comfortable but not the main chef. 
    • Plan a couple activities that require leaving the house.  Even if the weather is chilly, leaving the house is huge.  For me, I am planning on attending a T-day lite-up downtown event and checking out a food truck faire!  Two events in 7 days is enough to keep me motivated, but not overwhelmed, turning fun activities into work. On the off days, I will plan to talk a walk around the block, through the neighborhood, down the schoolyard, or basically anywhere else.  The walk can be as long or as short as I want, with a minimum of "to the neighbor's house." The simple act of leaving the house helps to awaken your senses, increase your vitamin D levels, combats SAD, and increases blood floor, all of which fights depression.  
    • Most importantly, be gentle on yourself.  I don't care if you are having a Thanksgiving dinner for work, with loved ones, or by yourself, be gentle on yourself.  You do not have to meet someone else's expectation of you.  You do not even have to meet your expectation of what you should do.  All you have to do is show up. Showing up is half the battle; you have already beaten one symptom of depression - isolation.  For the rest of the visit, accept your needs and honor them.  If you need to sleep in, do so.  If you need to cancel a dinner date, do so.  If you need to go out, do so.  If you need to read a book, do so.  If you need to take a break and hide in the bathroom for a while, do so.  You have to take care of yourself.
  3. Be flexible.  If you are one of those people who need to plan everything out, go for it, but also plan in some extra wiggle room.  In my case, I have blocks on my mental plan.  Drive days, scheduled events, then I have generic blocks.  One says "game of choice" and the other says "other home activity" (which includes walking since it is around the neighborhood) and they both exist on every day during the visit.  If you want more details, feel free to message me.  If you are the type that plays it by ear, set an alarm in your phone to ensure that you take some required fun/take care of you time. 
Finally, if none of that helps and you still find your thoughts/feelings going to dark places, accept it and talk about it.  It doesn't matter who.  You might call your psychiatrist or therapist, or talk to your best friend, family member, spouse, parent, God, journal, blogger, or stranger.  Talk to someone about it and really listen to any legal, reasonable suggestions to help elevate your mood.  They may be something you try or not, but at least you have options now.  

I didn't mean for this to become so long, but if you stuck with me, Congratulations!  We are almost done!  Remember, everyone has their own battles to fight.  Do not assume yours is greater than another's.  Do not assume yours is insignificant.  So this season, smile a little brighter, be a little more kind, be a little more gentle.  You never know when your smile can make or break a day for someone.