A Holiday Survival Guide for People with Depression

The holidays are hectic for everyone: buy this gift, race to that party. But for people with depression, the holidays can be particularly stressful, Elizabeth Ochoa, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healthline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 10 adults in the United States reports having depression.

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2007 to 2010 show that nearly 8 percent of people older than 12 (6 percent of men and 10 percent of women) report current depression symptoms. Women have higher rates of depression than men in every age group.

What’s more, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that at any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression. The lifetime risk for depression is about 17 percent.

People who are depressed often feel anxious or sad. They may say they are tired and lack energy. “If you are depressed, you are going to have more difficulty than someone who is not depressed managing the demands of the holiday season,” said Ochoa.

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If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you can make it through the holidays. Ochoa shared these simple tips:

Learn to Say ‘No’

The holidays are a time of year when people have expectations about fun, togetherness, and spending time with family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard for people to say no to invitations, said Ochoa. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or appear to be unable to get yourself to the party.

depression

However, you may want to limit your commitments so you aren’t overbooked with social activities, Ochoa said. Pace yourself and find a comfort level between time spent alone where you can relax and recharge, and time you share with other people, where you are required to socialize.

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Stay on Budget

Money is another source of holiday stress. “People have expectations about gift giving and about spending money,” said Ochoa. They worry whether their gift is good enough, if it’s the right kind of present, and about the number of people they need to buy gifts for. In short, “A lot of anxiety emerges around the holidays about gift giving,” Ochoa said.

If people can … be creative in their gift giving, it will help relieve some of the financial stress of buying gifts.
Elizabeth Ochoa, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

What people sometimes forget, Ochoa said, is that the most valuable gifts come from the heart. “If people can keep that in mind and be creative in their gift giving, it will help relieve some of the financial stress of buying gifts.For example, a box of homemade cookies would be appreciated by most people and doesn’t involve a big expense.

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Stick to a Routine

If you have an exercise routine, stick with it, whether it’s working out every day or a few times a week, Ochoa said. That routine is familiar, and it’s good for you or you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Routines help normalize your life, despite the increase in social activities and demands over the holidays.

Take Care of Yourself

It can be tempting to overindulge at the holiday buffet or bar, but try to resist, advised Ochoa. “People tend to overeat during the holidays and then get upset because they have gained weight,” she said.

And alcohol contributes to depression. Try to pace yourself and set limits in terms of goodies consumed or drinks guzzled if you are at a party.

Getting enough sleep is also important, Ochoa said. If you can't sleep because you have taken on too much, or you have had too much to eat or drink, you won’t be able to function the next day. Exhaustion affects your mood and your ability to cope with stress.

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Manage Your Time

Prioritize your activities and your time, Ochoa advised. Set realistic expectations of what you can commit to, in terms of parties and other events.

Be sure to make time for yourself in the course of your day. Set aside an hour before you go to bed to relax, read a book, watch TV, or listen to music.

Tap Into Your Social Network

Friends and family are an important means of social support, Ochoa said. They help you feel connected to a community and to other people.

Ochoa added that time spent with friends and family is often very joyful, but it can also be stressful, depending on the types of relationships you have. Try to spend more time with people who are easy to be with. Acknowledge the more difficult relationships and limit time spent with these kinds of friends or relatives.

The take-home message is to enjoy yourself. “You should have a good time and enjoy the holidays, but not to the point where you feel stressed out rather than enlivened,” said Ochoa.