If you’re having a hard time over the holidays, you’re not alone. For people struggling with their mental health, the holidays can complicate things.
And for many people, myself included, having seasonal depressive disorder because of the holidays or the time change can make the season anything but the best time of the year.
As a suicide prevention advocate and former country director of a national suicide prevention nonprofit, I’m often asked to speak about the so-called vacation blues.
There are many reasons people can feel a sense of dread when it comes to Thanksgiving and the holiday season. It’s a lot of work to decorate and cook. You may not have the extra cash for gifts. Some people have complicated family relationships — or, on the other hand, simply cannot spend time with their family due to distance, work, or other factors. Sometimes it’s the first Christmas season after losing a loved one (raise my hand). And because of social media, many people have unrealistic expectations of what the holidays should look like, or wish things were the way they were when they were kids.
So how do those who are struggling cope with the holiday season? Most experts say it helps to find healthy ways to cope rather than self-medicating to get through it.
It’s different for everyone, but here are some suggestions that might help you make the most of the holiday season.
Tips for coping with the holiday season
- Say no: It’s okay to decline an invitation to a party—even to wrap up family gatherings—if it isn’t good for your well-being. Make a list of pros and cons for participating. Remember, you always have a choice.
- Stick to a budget: If money is tight during the holiday season, set a budget and stick to it. You can also look for fun things that are free, like building a snowman or checking out Christmas decorations in your neighborhood.
- Prioritize self-care: No matter how hectic things are, make time for yourself. Make time to read a book or watch a movie, take a hot shower or bath, get a massage or listen to music, go for a walk, or otherwise spend time in nature.
- Stick to healthy habits: There are so many temptations during the holidays, but experts say you’ll feel better if you eat healthy and exercise daily. It can be so easy to park further away when shopping and thereby walk a few extra steps. You also want to be sure to get plenty of sleep.
- Limit alcohol: If you are feeling depressed or anxious, try to limit your alcohol consumption. Drinking can make you feel worse – not better.
- Be nice to yourself: Be gentle with yourself throughout the holiday. How do you talk to your best friend? Do you talk to yourself the same way?
- Volunteers: If you’re feeling isolated or lonely, volunteering can be a great solution. You instantly connect with other volunteers and those you help, and in general, most experts say, you feel a sense of pride that can lift your spirits.
What to do when you’re worried about a friend, loved one, or yourself?
If you’re worried about a friend or loved one, it’s a good idea to stop by and see them more often during the holiday season. It’s helpful when someone is struggling to know that they have people in their life who support them.
Just listening can also do a lot to help your friend or loved one. Be engaging and ask follow-up questions and respond with supporting statements. Do not offer advice or try to solve their problems. Just listening often helps a lot.
If you feel more help is needed, it can be helpful to encourage a friend to seek professional help.
Seasonal depression should be taken seriously. While it’s a myth that suicide rates are higher during the holidays, it’s still a serious problem.
When your friend or family member talks about being a burden or feeling hopeless, when they have behavior changes, extreme mood swings, or when they give away possessions, they may be contemplating suicide.
Lifeline 988 is available 24 hours a day.
Unlike calling 911, it doesn’t have to be an emergency to call the lifeline. You can call for advice for a friend or for yourself. People can call 988, text, or chat and be connected to a trained advisor who will provide caller support and resources.
AFP interview on vacation blues (8:47 minutes)
Crystal Graham is a suicide prevention advocate and loss survivor. She joins the Street Knowledge videocast to share tips for people struggling with the holiday blues. Street Knowledge is hosted by AFP Editor Chris Graham, an award-winning sportswriter who is also a writer and ESPN3 baseball play-by-play broadcaster.
NBC29 Interview on Vacation Blues (3:33 mins)