Dealing with Holiday Depression

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, right? Everyone basks in the joy of the season. Everyone feels warm and fuzzy. We’re all a little nicer to one another (except on Black Friday), and it’s generally a happy time. Only for some of us, it simply isn’t. According to Google holiday depression is a legitimate malady, which frankly, is a relief. It’s nice to know that enough people deal with this that it has an official name.

My older brother passed away when I was fourteen, and that’s the first time I remember Christmas being different. I’m not sure if you know this, but your parents never really recover from something like that, so I don’t think Christmas ever felt completely normal again. Then when I was 23, my dad died unexpectedly, and Christmas stopped feeling celebratory altogether.

In theory, I love Christmas. I get excited when Christmas music starts playing (only after Thanksgiving, please), and I like putting up a tree and buying gifts. I enjoy all the trappings the holidays bring, but through it all there is an undercurrent of melancholy. Some people don’t like Chocolate. I don’t love Christmas.

It’s worth noting that my holiday depression, or at least my ability to cope with it, have improved greatly. I used to spend all of Christmas Eve (or the entire week of Christmas) crying my eyes out. I used to do everything I could to ruin Christmas for everyone, hoping that if I did they’d cancel the festivities or at least stop inviting me.
Sadly, my family loves me and they refused to do either. That meant I had to be an adult about it and find ways to deal with my feelings.

If your family is like mine and won’t cancel Christmas or exclude you from the celebration, you have my sympathies. I’m also offering help. These tips won’t magically make you love Christmas; I think we both know that’s a stretch. What they will do is give you ways to cope that perhaps you haven’t considered. Most of all, I hope this post shows you that you’re not the only one struggling with holiday depression. We are many, even if we don’t say it out loud.

* Set realistic expectations. You don’t love Christmas. It’s a hard time for you; accept that and recognize that you can’t expect it to be the most wonderful time of year for you. I’ve found that when I tell myself that everything will be exciting and perfect, I end up disappointed (and in the bathroom crying). Nothing is perfect and putting that kind of pressure on yourself only leads to feeling like you’ve somehow failed because things didn’t go exactly the way you intended. Instead of going into Christmas thinking “Everything is going to be amazing,” treat it like it’s just another day, only on this day you get presents. Presents make anything tolerable.
* Tell someone. There is a great deal of shame that comes with being unable to find joy in the holidays. Why can’t I be like everyone else? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get over this? We then isolate ourselves for fear that our secret will get out and we’ll then either be treated like toddlers or like patient zero. Once you confide in someone, that fear is less pervasive. Allowing another person to understand how you struggle at Christmastime relieves a bit of your burden and it helps your loved know how to best support you. You don’t have to everyone, but you also don’t need to suffer alone.
* Start a new tradition. Just because your family has always done certain things doesn’t mean you have to continue doing them. You’re allowed to outgrow (or hate) the traditions your family has fallen into, and you’re also allowed to start doing things the way you want. Go out of town for the holidays. Have a small, low-key lunch a week before Christmas instead of a big dinner on the day of. Prioritize your mental well-being over some else’s hurt feelings. My husband and I have started an advent calendar with our kids, so we do something fun and Christmas-y every day. This helps because it gives me something lighthearted to look forward to. If I’m having a difficult day, I know that in a few hours I’ll be baking cookies or making some sort of craft with my four-year-old. In other words, I’ll be stressed too about possibly losing a finger to think about my grief. Easy.
* Remember: it’s temporary. Despite the fact that people start decorating the minute Halloween is over, Christmas doesn’t last forever. Soon this holiday will pass and it will take with it the ever-present reminder of loss. The notion that you’re expected to love Christmas is overwhelming, and Christmas is so very in your face. There’s a lot of pressure to be jolly! Soon that will fade, and everyone will be back to being Scrooges in their every day life. You’ll seem merry in comparison, so just hang on a little longer.

I will say that having children has helped me to enjoy Christmas more. It’s hard to stay miserable watching the wonder on your child’s face when he goes to see Santa or when he takes such pleasure in the simplicity that is hot chocolate with extra marshmallows and whipped cream.
Still, Christmas is mostly a melancholic time for me. It likely always will be, and I’ve decided that’s okay. The important thing is that I (and those of you with similar struggles) find some joy in the season. I am thankful I’ve been able to make progress toward a better holiday season, and I hope you can too.

I want to know: Do you get the holiday blues? How do you cope?

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