The holiday season is typically a time of joy and laughter for most people. However, financial stress, feelings of isolation, loss of a loved one, or another traumatic event can turn what is often a merry time into one of depression and loneliness.
The devastating effects Covid has had on individuals and families may only exacerbate these feelings. Experts advise being hypervigilant and compassionate with yourself and others this season while taking steps to make the holidays not only bearable but enjoyable, too. Everyone deserves a good holiday!
“During the holidays, it helps to focus on what we can control,” says Fred Holtz, Ph.D., executive director of Psychological Services Long Island. “Cognitive coping statements” and “positive self-talk” can go a long way in supporting oneself through a challenging time, Dr. Holtz notes.
“We internalize things we repeatedly hear, so if we fill our day with positive statements, we will eventually internalize these,” he adds.
Dr. Holtz suggests that you can influence comfort and happiness with statements such as:
“I can choose what gatherings to go to and which to avoid.”
“I can deal with this. I have done well in these situations before.”
“I will practice self-care and not put pressure on myself.”
“I will seek out positive friends and relatives and enjoy their company.”
“I can enjoy these holidays in my own way.”
Holtz advises not to spread yourself too thin this season, and to be supportive of others who may be experiencing similar feelings.
“Learn to say ‘no’ if the situation is too stressful,” he says.
Understanding that you are not alone may help to put things in perspective and help you to move to a place of acceptance, says Josh King, PsyD, director of clinical and digital services integration at the Center for Motivation and Change, Long Island, N.Y.C., D.C., and MA. “Acknowledge and recognize that this is a hard time and begin to strategize on how to get through it. The minute you work on acceptance, you’re going to be flexible and able to find ways of engaging, regardless of what is going on.”
Practicing both mindfulness and distracting skills may help you stay balanced and focused in situations where you may otherwise feel anxious and sad.
“Ask yourself, ‘How do I be present for that moment even if it does not feel like exactly what I wanted?’” poses Dr. King. If you find yourself jumping ahead, try an exercise like counting backwards from 100 by 7, he suggests. “It can help to bring you back into the moment and get centered.”
Be kind to yourself, experts say. Take some time to do what you most enjoy or what makes you feel calm and at peace. A warm bath, a stroll through town in fresh air, or reading a good book, for example.
“Exercise is a well-known remedy for depression,” notes Dr. Holtz. “Exerting yourself actually creates adrenaline and other hormones that improve mood.”
In order to help yourself or someone else through depression, know the signs, says Randy Tanzer, licensed clinical social worker, Long Island.
“Any changes in behavior should be noticed,” she says. These include changes in patterns of eating, sleeping, and the ability to “function” academically, with work or in completing daily living tasks.
“Behavior is there to show us things about what a person is going through or how they are functioning in ways they can’t say with words,” she adds.
Behavioral changes should not be ignored any time of year, including the holiday season, advises Tanzer.
“If you know someone who is suffering with depression and may have a more challenging time this season, reach out to them,” says Tanzer. “People want to be heard and understood … ‘I’ statements help. ‘I care’ or ‘I love you’ can go a long way in showing someone you care. If we gently intervene, something can change for the better.”
Invite others to participate in charitable endeavors, enjoy holiday music, or decorate — “small acts you can do together to help boost spirits,” Tanzer suggests. She advises, “If things begin to feel too out of control, however, seek professional support.”