It doesn’t help that we are bombarded by the media with all sorts of messages about how sweet and wonderful and memorable these next two months are supposed to be. After all, there are Miracle(s) [happening] on 34thStreet, it’s [apparently] a Wonderful Life, and even Charlie Brown’s Christmas turns out well despite his ill-advised Christmas tree selection.
For those of us suffering from depression, the holidays can be very daunting. More social events when we just want to isolate, more frantic activity levels when we just want to hibernate, more “warm and fuzzy” sentiments floating about when we are feeling detached and lonely. It can become overwhelming all too quickly.
That is not to say that we can’t find joy in the holidays, or that we are doomed to misery while everyone else seems to be living one big perpetual “Hallmark moment.” We don’t have to go into survival mode just to make it through the next month or so. We can, instead, strategize to find pleasure in this time of year. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Prioritize your activities. Just because you are invited to a dozen parties, asked to participate in a half dozen cookie/gift exchanges and holiday bazaars, and have been tagged to organize the community Christmas pageant for three years running now, doesn’t mean you have to say yes to all of these engagements. Think about which activities actually give you pleasure. The singing Christmas tree won’t topple if you aren’t one of the branches this year. By choosing fewer, more meaningful activities, you will find them more rewarding and you will be able to sustain your energy to enjoy them.
Set realistic expectations. While I would love to create a Thanksgiving dinner spread that would shame the cover photo of Bon Appetit, it’s not going to happen. Nor am I going to find the perfect gifts for my hundred closest friends. Nor am I going to be able to make absolutely everyone experience great holiday cheer. Perfection doesn’t happen at Christmas time or any other time. What I can do is choose to savor the moments, no matter how imperfect.
Delegate. Having guests to your holiday dinner? Let them bring a side dish or dessert. It may not be great-Granny’s secret family recipe, but as long as no one gets food poisoning, I’d call it a success. Have a mountain of gifts to wrap or cookies to bake? First of all, refer back to the paragraph on prioritizing. Then if you’re still going to do the activity, look around to see who can help out. Children are a wonderful resource for helping hands. Who cares if there are a few wrinkles in the wrapping paper? Who cares if the ginger bread men don’t all end up with symmetrically positioned candy eyes? As long as they don’t have tooth marks where a limb has been severed, you’re good to go.
Get outside of yourself. The holidays aren’t a pass/fail test of your entertaining skills, your capacity to nurture the perfectly functional family, or your unwavering depth of faith. Don’t judge yourself on how well you are “doing” the holidays. You can appreciate festive lights, intimate get-togethers and religious observances to whatever extent you are able, and leave it up to others to have their own experience of the holiday.
Give yourself extra TLC. Pay close attention to the daily health choices you can make for yourself. Here comes the broken record: fit in some exercise, get plenty of rest, try to eat healthily in spite of all the additional holiday goodies, and schedule some relaxing down time for yourself.
Of course, take the usual holiday precautions: beware of regifted fruitcakes, don’t choose your office Christmas party as the time to “let it all hang out,” and don’t eat yellow snow.
Take some of the stress out and you may actually find some holiday cheer. If Charlie Brown can do it, so can we.