The holiday season centers on the idea of giving gifts and spending time with friends and family. While this can be an enjoyable part of the year for those who live with depression, it can be difficult to spend so much time focusing on others, especially if you are struggling just to keep up with daily tasks. Instead of giving all of your attention to others this holiday season, it’s okay to focus on your own needs and give yourself the gift of self-care.
Incorporating Self-Care During the Holidays
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be challenging for people who live with depression. When you’re experiencing symptoms like a lack of pleasure with routine activities, extreme fatigue, and trouble sleeping, the events and activities associated with the holiday season can become overwhelming. Instead of feeling pressured to participate in every holiday event, you have every right to set boundaries around your time and energy and take time for yourself.
Below are some strategies that can help you to practice self-care in order to manage depression symptoms during the busy month of December.
Take Time to Unwind if You Need It
Calendars are likely to be more packed during the holidays. Between family gatherings, tree-lighting ceremonies, and office parties, it seems like there is always some event to prepare for and attend. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, turning down an event or just staying at home can be a simple act of self-care. When you choose to pass up an event, it’s okay to simply decline without further explanation, even if you’re declining to stay at home and watch reality TV.
Commit to Unplugging
The period between Thanksgiving and New Years comes with paid days off from work for many people, or at least the opportunity to use vacation time. Take advantage of the extra time off, and truly unplug from your work. Committing to unplugging for at least a few days will likely have benefits for your mental health. In fact, research has found that burnout is linked to an increased risk of depression, as well as reduced life satisfaction. Use your vacation days this holiday season, and take time to truly rest and recover without feeling the need to answer a work call or respond to emails.
Incorporate Exercise into Your Routine
Research has consistently demonstrated that exercise is beneficial for mental health. A recent study in Scientific Reports found that moderate and vigorous physical activity reduces the severity of depression scores. According to the study, just one day of exercise per week is enough to ward off depression. The point is that you don’t have to train like a professional athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Scheduling one or two gym sessions a week, or attending a group exercise class, can be enough self-care to get you through the holiday season with a brighter disposition.
Indulge in Some Pampering
If you’re headed to the salon to buy a gift card for someone on your list, go ahead and treat yourself to some pampering as well. Many salons offer massage services, which can actually be quite beneficial for mental health. A review of 17 different studies found that massage therapy is associated with significant alleviation of depression symptoms. Take advantage of holiday discounts and invest in a few massage sessions for yourself.
Identify and Avoid Your Triggers
Sometimes, certain aspects of the holiday season aren’t particularly joyous, especially if you live with a mental health condition like depression. Identifying and avoiding your triggers is a necessary act of self-care, and you may have to turn down triggering situations, even if it means hurting someone’s feelings. If overnight trips to see family, all-day shopping excursions or time spent with certain relatives are too much for you, it may be best for your mental health to avoid engaging in these events. At the very least, you might consider making triggering situations more manageable. For instance, instead of overnight trips, you might agree to visit for an afternoon, or you might agree to go to one local boutique to shop with a friend rather than spend all day at the mall.
The Importance of Seeking Treatment
While acts of self-care can help to alleviate holiday stress, the truth is that you may need to reach out for professional treatment. A survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 40% of people with a mental health condition feel that the holidays make their symptoms somewhat worse, and 24% feel that the holiday season makes mental illness “a lot worse.” Financial strain, loneliness, high levels of pressure, and unrealistic expectations can all make the holiday season challenging for those with mental health conditions.
What this means is that if you are experiencing depression, you may need to reach out for professional treatment during the holiday season, especially if symptoms become more severe. When depression begins to interfere with daily life and make it challenging to complete routine tasks, it’s probably time to consult a professional. Counseling and/or medication can help to alleviate depression symptoms and improve your quality of life. If you’re already in treatment for depression, you may notice that symptoms return or that you need to increase the frequency with which you see your therapist or doctor. This is completely normal, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
If depression symptoms are severe and do not subside with self-care and professional treatment, you may be living with treatment-resistant depression. In this case, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be beneficial for you. This non-invasive treatment modality uses a device placed against the head to deliver small pulses to areas of the brain involved in mood regulation. Pulse TMS provides this service in the Los Angeles area. Contact us today to determine if you’re a candidate for TMS treatment this holiday season.