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5 Ways to Cope With Depression Over the Holidays (in the Form of Christmas Puns)

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Oh, the holidays. A time for slapping on your favorite festive pajama set and jingly elf slippers, brewing a cup of hot chocolate with a shit ton of whipped cream and marshmallows, and cozying up near the fireplace with the love of your life — the holiday blues.

Like a lot of people, I definitely struggle with my mental health more than usual at certain times of year. Sometimes the culprit is seasonal depression (also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD); sometimes it’s because a certain time of year triggers old memories and feelings.

So, when the holidays prance into town and I’m already feeling down, feeling like I have to be festive 24/7 can lead to even greater feelings of guilt, self-loathing and loneliness. Of course, I totally want to go to every holiday party, because who doesn’t love having an excuse to wear an ugly Christmas sweater?

But when I don’t feel great, the holiday season can make me feel a lot like reindeer crap. Why? Because the season is short as heck. I feel pressured to take advantage of every chance to be festive, because if I don’t, it’s not like I can blast “All I Want for Christmas is You” while ice skating with Santa Claus after Christmas. (I mean, I definitely could. No one’s stopping me from doing that on December 26 — but it’s just not the same.)

Although holiday depression can make you feel as foggy as it was on Christmas Eve when Santa asked Rudolph to guide his sleigh, there are ways to cope that’ll help you feel like yourself again.

Here are five ways to manage the holiday blues (in the form of Christmas song-related puns, of course).

1. Let It Go! Let It Go! Let It Go!

Whether it’s the holiday season or not, my biggest struggle is letting myself feel all of the feels. This means when I feel anything but myself, I go into a panic and throw myself a big self-deprecating party. I’ll get frustrated with myself and think, “Jesus Christmas, Jane. Gingersnap out of it. You’re missing out on life and wasting time because you’re sad. Just get the f up, you lazy toy sack of shit.”

As a result of this less-than-cheerful self-talk, my emotions look a bit like my neighbor’s Christmas lights that switch from green to red to white to blue every few seconds. In other words, I feel like I can’t control my emotions; I’m happy one minute, sad the next and angry the next. (It’s like I’m Snow Miser and Heat Miser.)

But what I’m really, really, really working on is to not be annoyed at myself for feeling off during the holidays. That means letting go of that negative self-talk, not avoiding my feelings and letting nature take its course. Kind of like a Chinese finger trap, the more I struggle with myself and these foggy feelings, the more entrapped I get, which is all around no good.

By fully embracing the, “hey! I’m not OK, and that’s OK!” mantra, I’m more likely to feel what I need to feel, let it pass and start feeling like myself again.

2. I’ll Be Home (Alone) for Christmas.

As an introvert, I treasure my alone time as much as Yukon Cornelius treasures silver and gold. Whether it be an hour or an entire night of “me” time, I need to be alone to digest what’s happened in the day and to reenergize for the next.

That’s why, when I’m going through a bit of a rough patch, I definitely need time to myself to focus on what’s going on and what I can do to make myself feel OK. To stay focused, I try to stay off of my phone, go for a drive, organize my surroundings and more.

The best part of alone time? You can totally be festive by baking holiday cookies, watching “Elf” for the millionth time and rocking around the Christmas tree — all while chillin’ by yourself.

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3. All I Want for Christmas is (Quality Time With) You

While my introverted self is a big lover of alone time, too much of it can make me feel worse. Like anything, it’s all about moderation. This means I need to sprinkle a bit of time with others and “me” time in order to feel my best.

Whether it’s going to class or running to Stop n’ Shop to buy those sugar cookies with the pictures on top (you know which cookies I’m talking about), any form of socialization, even it’s just being around other people and not necessarily talking with them, is good for the soul.

Of course, what I treasure the most is quality time with my loved ones. During the holidays, there’s nothing quite like watching a Christmas classic with friends or decorating the Christmas tree with my family. That’s why being surrounded by people who you care about and who care about you in return is the best way to better your mental health and be in the holiday spirit.

4. Santa Tell Me (Your Problems)

Even as someone who encourages people to talk to others about their struggles, I still don’t love talking about my feelings. I’m still unlearning that being open about your mental health doesn’t mean you’re weak, nor is it burdening others.

However, what I’ve noticed through the years is that talking does help. A lot.

Like a lot of self-care, talking about your feelings isn’t always easy, comfortable or fun. (Lord knows I need to hype myself up a bit before opening up.) But talking can relieve that pressure to be cheerful and allow you to actually feel what you need to feel.

Plus, more often than not, whoever you talk to wholeheartedly cares about you and wants to support you in any way they can. Who knows? You may find out that you’re not as alone as you think.

5. I Saw Mommy (Practicing Self-Care)

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t practice self-care as much as I should, especially when I’m at school. I know what I like to do for self-care — write, go to the gym, get out of the house — but do I do it all of the time? Heck no. It’s your classic case of “I don’t take my own advice.”

That’s why starting this holiday season, I’m buckling up and really practicing my much-avoided self-care routine. That means encouraging myself to stop avoiding my feelings by napping all day and, instead, pushing myself to do what I need to do to actually live my life.

Now, of course, I must listen to my body. Self-care changes from day to day, and Lord knows it is healthy for my soul to occasionally choose naps over going out with friends.

But I’ve finally realized that I haven’t been practicing much self-care recently, and, quite frankly, I’m tired of not treating my body like the temple she is!

Plus, what better time to reboot that dusty self-care routine than during the holidays? A pine tree-scented candle, a Christmas film and a journal to let those pent-up thoughts flow out of me like a raging river? Sign me up.

So, if you’re like me and you struggle with being in the holiday spirit when you feel like shit on a cinnamon stick, remember: your feelings are valid. Mental health doesn’t take a break just because every radio station is blasting Christmas music 24/7, and everyone is saying “You need to be in the Christmas spirit!”

What’s important is realizing that you don’t need to feel festive 24/7. It’s totally OK to take a step back and take care of yourself first. That is the best present you can gift to yourself, after all!

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.

Getty Images photo via Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: December 11, 2020
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