By Tammy Worth
It’s a myth that suicide is more common around the holidays (springtime is actually the peak). But holiday cheer isn’t a given either.
High expectations, money woes, and other holiday hazards can spell trouble for anyone, but especially those prone to depression.
With a bit of foresight and planning, however, holidays can leave you feeling up, not down. Follow these tips for a successful holiday.
Spend some time figuring out how to take care of yourself during this time, says John Sharp, MD, a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston.
Come up with restorative routines, such as reading a book or napping, and write them on a calendar. In between shopping and baking, make sure these routines don’t fall by the wayside.
“Figure out what basics are going to help you get through the holidays and make them a priority,” Dr. Sharp says.
There are a couple ways to save your sanity at family gatherings, says Jeffrey Greeson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, in Durham, N.C.
If you know there are going to be conflicts, prepare a neutral response, such as, “Let’s talk about that another time,” or, “I can see how you would feel that way.”
Then escape to the restroom, offer to help in the kitchen, or go hang out with the kids. And it always helps to call a good friend if you need a sympathetic ear.
Debbie Thurman, a 57-year-old from Monroe, Va., suffered from depression for years, and the holidays made it worse. From decorating to finding the perfect gifts, she felt overwhelmed.
At a support group’s suggestion, she listed the simple things that really made her family happy, and she began traditions that helped the less fortunate.
“When you take your eyes off of yourself and focus on those who have far less than you do, you can’t be depressed,” she says. “I learned to be grateful for the blessings I had, and I had a lot.”
If you are mourning a loved one, it’s a good time to talk about your feelings or reach out to support groups.
“There’s no one right way to feel,” says Deborah Jonsson, public relations manager at Avow Hospice, in Collier County, Fla. It’s not uncommon to feel angry at the person for leaving you alone or feeling guilty if you do enjoy yourself during the holidays.
“All feelings are a sign that you’re human and reflect where you are in your healing process,” Jonsson says.
Holiday activities easily can interfere with your sleep schedule. But studies have shown there is a link between sleep loss and depression, so you need to be extra careful about cutting back on sleep to get everything done.
Try to get to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day; avoid large meals and physical activity such as dancing within a few hours of bedtime; and make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary, free from TV or other distractions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.