Christmas, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Right…Unless you have depression. The thoughts going through your mind this time of year may include…
- “How can I be happy over Christmas?”
- “How do I avoid Christmas blues?”
- “How do I avoid a depression relapse over Christmas?”
I’ve always adored Christmas. But I had that first Christmas after my depression diagnosis, and then I had multiple years of Christmas with depression after that, and now finally I’m free of depression but my mental health requires that I still tread carefully.
So in this post, I wanted to let you know my best tips for not only surviving Christmas when you have mental health problems, but also loving Christmas and actually being able to enjoy all its magic.
How to Enjoy Christmas With Depression: 16 Tips to Survive The Holidays
While Christmas can be magical it can also be stressful.
There is so much pressure for everything to be perfect, to get on with family members who you might fundamentally have nothing in common with all while not getting enough sleep and eating and drinking some very unhealthy stuff to excess.
Especially if on top of all of this, you also suffer from seasonal depression.
It’s kind of a perfect storm for mental health problems to rear their ugly head, and as someone who’s been through multiple Christmases with depression, I want to tell you about my best coping strategies on how to survive Christmas with depression.
Because Christmas is magical and it can be wonderful for you too… with a few tweaks.
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Look though, I get it. I tried everything under the sun to beat my depression and if I had stumbled across this on the internet I probably wouldn’t have believed it either.
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Let’s get started with the tips!
What can we do to ease depression during the holidays?
1 – Plan well
Sounds obvious right, but planning well cannot be underestimated when it comes to Christmas and your mental health.
The holidays always have a lot going on, and you want to do as much of it as possible, but stress and feeling overwhelmed can easily trigger a depression relapse.
That’s why it’s so important to plan everything and make sure you still have plenty of white space on your calendar because you will need downtime as well (and if you don’t have downtime, when are you going to fit in all those Christmas movies?)
Obviously, you will want to plan in events you’re going to, parties and gatherings. But you also want to plan in when you’re going to do your Christmas shopping, when you’re going to wrap presents, when to pack if you’re spending the holidays away, when to cook if you’re hosting…
Basically, you want to add in anything that isn’t part of your normal routine because while it might be fun and exciting, it’s still going to be a potential drain on your mental health that you will need to balance with R&R and white space on your calendar.
2 – Shop early
For the majority of us, Christmas also means Christmas shopping and buying presents for our loved ones.
This is one of my favorite things to do, but it quickly becomes a stress-filled nightmare if I haven’t given myself enough time…
You see I love searching until I’ve found the perfect gift for that person (one of my love languages to show my love to others is gift-giving…) but I hate having to settle on something I know isn’t truly right for that person.
I also don’t want to have to go shopping when the crowds are ridiculous and everyone has that frenzied, stressed energy. No thank you.
Instead, start Christmas shopping in early November (you can start earlier if you want, but I find this to be the perfect balance between starting too early and not leaving it too late.)
You should then aim to have the majority of your gifts by the start of December, which leaves December opens to you enjoying the Christmas festivities and not having to frantically shop.
3 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help
While the first two items have been very practical for Christmas time, this is something that is super relevant year-round but really comes into its own during the holidays.
You see the holidays have a lot of pressure for everything to be perfect. Virtually every Christmas movie known to man has some variance on the theme of somehow Christmas is getting ruined and we need to make it perfect to truly be happy, and they always manage it.
With this level of pressure, it’s no wonder Christmas can cause some mental health issues.
But the trick is to ask for help.
For example, maybe you’re hosting Christmas this year and you’re stressed out over alllll the holiday cooking.
Stop. Ask for help.
Maybe everyone could bring a dish (and you can request what dish they bring as well), or you could rope in visitors to help in the kitchen on Christmas day (I feel like Christmas is the one day everyone is more than happy to help out in the kitchen because, hello Christmas dinner, yum!)
Or perhaps you’re going away for Christmas and you’re feeling the pressure to get everything done in time before you have to get in the car or jump on a flight.
Stop and ask for help.
If you’ve got loads of work to do before the holidays ask a colleague or manager for help with your workload or maybe you still can’t find the perfect gift for your brother, ask your mate who’s into similar stuff to pick out something he would like.
There is always someone who we can ask for help. It’s time we started asking.
Also, the whole making Christmas perfect again in the movies always require that people come together and help each other to make it happen. I’m just saying…
4 – Let people know you have depression or mental health problems if you can
I know this can be a really tough one for people and it’s definitely something I use to struggle with.
But if it’s at all possible let the people in your life know you have depression and that you might just need some alone time at some points during the holidays.
This can really take the pressure off you feeling like you have to look happy and joyful the whole time because you’re already given the reason why.
Now I get that some people’s friends and families might not be receptive to you discussing your mental health, and that in certain cases it’s actually better for your mental health not to share.
But if you have understanding people around you then sharing can really take the pressure off. And less pressure means less chance of a depression relapse and more chance you will enjoy Christmas.
Alternatively, if you can’t tell everyone your spending the holidays with, tell one or two trusted people who can cover for you if you’re not feeling good. That can also work really well too.
5 – Stay within your means and don’t be afraid to say no
I get that Christmas is super exciting and we want to do everything, buy everything, be everywhere, etc, etc.
But it’s so important that you stay within your means to avoid masses of stress that you just don’t need when you’re trying to keep your mental health steady.
This can include:
• Financial means (not spending more money than you have)
• Energy means (not overbooking yourself so you don’t have time to rest)
• Food and drink means (not going too overboard with the alcohol and yummy food so it off balances your mental health)
And don’t be afraid to say no to stay in your means!
What we’re trying to do is keep as level as possible so our mental health can stay as level as possible too and to do that we want to cut out as much potential stress as possible, which is why this point is so important.
It’s stressful to spend more money than you have, it’s stressful to be so exhausted, it’s stressful to feel ill thanks to all the food and drink you’ve eaten.
So stay within your means, at least as much as possible.
6 – Reject the perfect Christmas pressure
I did touch on this in number three, but there is so. much. pressure on everyone to make Christmas perfect.
And let’s be honest, life is never perfect, like never ever.
Why? Because it’s life. Full of lots of different people, factors we can’t control (like weather or the grocery store running out of your favorite cranberry sauce) and ourselves, who can be the most surprising factor of all sometimes…
Basically you’re onto a losing battle if you want and expect Christmas to be perfect.
Let go of that expectation.
You can have other expectations, sure! Like Christmas being fun, people having a blast and the food being yummy.
But you’ve got to let go of the idea of everything being perfect because it’s just impossible.
And it will put so much pressure and stress on you that your mental health is not going to play nice.
7 – Allow yourself some alone time
Now maybe this is more one for my fellow introverts but I need regular alone time to recharge.
Especially when my mental health isn’t great.
But Christmas doesn’t tend to have a lot of space for alone time, at least that’s what I’ve always found.
And it also doesn’t really feel in the Christmas spirit to be alone, we think we need to be with our families and friends 24/7 celebrating and having fun, but that just isn’t feasible.
So allow yourself some time alone time to just chill out and do you. Read a book, surf the web, watch Netflix, go for a run, fix your hair, whatever is a relaxing thing you would normally do on your own, keep doing that even though its the holidays.
You need it.
8 – Get plenty of rest and generally look after yourself
Christmas is exciting and there is so much going on that you want to do it all.
But doing everything will just lead to exhaustion, and when you’re super tired you really open yourself up to mental health relapses.
Just as if you were physically ill, being mentally unwell (or having a tendency to become not so hot mentally) means you need to look after yourself.
You need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, that you’re eating foods that work well for you, drinking enough water, not drinking too much alcohol, etc, etc.
Just super basic self-care, but it’s easy not to prioritize it when you have a party tomorrow, you need to do Christmas shopping the next day, you want to visit the holiday lights the following day…
Suddenly getting eight hours of sleep and eating a home-cooked meal is put at the bottom of the pile.
It’s up to you to pull it back up to the top so you can do all those other lovely things.
9 – Accept that you probably will get down at some point and that’s okay…
The holidays are chock full of heightened emotions, alcohol, fun food, and at least one late night, so it really would be a Christmas miracle if this didn’t affect your mental health at all…
If you accept that you probably will have a wobble at some point it makes it so much easier to deal with it at the time.
And when you deal with it in the best way for you (for example, alone time and sleep is a great healer for me, for you it might be your meds or therapy or something else entirely) you can feel better quicker and get back into the holiday spirit.
Even people who don’t struggle with their mental health year-round can have a moment during the holidays because it’s so intense.
So give yourself some grace, mental health problems or not, you’re still an amazingly worthy human being who deserves a lovely Christmas.
10 – What about Christmas caused issues for you in the past?
The first thing to think about is what triggers affected you at previous holidays.
Of course, if this is your first year with mental health issues then this tip isn’t so applicable, but you might be able to recognize things that upset you in the past and could do more damage this year.
By figuring out what were the root triggers of your depression relapse in previous years you can negate some of the effects by avoiding those triggers this year.
For example, maybe it was too much alcohol, not enough sleep, not enough time alone or your Great Uncle Will’s sexist views (every family has one…)
By identifying what things act as your triggers you can try and avoid them or at least be prepared.
11 – Remember Christmas is really only 72 hours long…
With all the prep that goes into Christmas, it can be hard to remember that Christmas isn’t actually a month-long holiday. But in reality, actual Christmas only lasts a few days.
Just having this knowledge in your arsenal can be great to fall back on if you start to get overwhelmed with *everything* going on.
Most of us can get through anything when we know when and how soon it’s ending.
12 – Simplify your Christmas
Pressure seems to be the main issue when it comes to Christmas, particularly the pressure for everything to be perfect.
And this pressure can really cause some issues if you throw mental health problems into the mix as well because I don’t know about you but that’s a sure recipe for relapse for me!
So the easy answer is to simplify your Christmas, trust me it works a charm.
13 – Make your own Christmas traditions
Don’t be afraid to change up your current Christmas traditions if they don’t serve you and cause you pain…
For some people, their families are not understanding or supportive of their mental health and so you might realize that you need to spend Christmas away from your family even if the tradition has always been to spend Christmas with them.
This is totally okay. You aren’t rejecting them, just making a new Christmas tradition that serves you better. And if their reaction is negative take this as a sign they will miss you and nothing more.
Of course, your new Christmas traditions don’t have to be such a big change. Maybe you just recognize that alcohol doesn’t help your mental health and so you might forgo the eggnog and mulled wine this year.
Or that being back in your childhood church has nothing but bad memories for you so you miss the midnight mass held there and worship in your own way at home.
Think about your triggers and what new traditions you could implement so you don’t have to partake in the activities that hurt you.
14 – Don’t be afraid to say no
The funny thing about saying no is the first few times you say it everyone tries to convince you to do the thing anyway, but after a few nos from you that you stick to everyone actually respects your no.
Much like the magic of Christmas when you say no to things that don’t serve you.
Just because everyone else enjoys them and wants to do them doesn’t mean you have to.
Just say no, politely. You’re allowed to not want to do something.
15 – Accept Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect
We’ve spoken about the pressure at Christmas time for everything to be perfect, so I won’t labor this point.
But basically, if you accept that things just won’t be perfect at Christmas, that things will go wrong, the turkey might burn, Uncle Will will probably say something offensive and there is a high chance your little cousin will vomit up all the sweets he ate earlier… all over your bed.
When you accept these things are likely to happen the pressure comes off you, which makes it far easier to actually enjoy the good bits.
And to not feel bad if you need to take five to get your head together.
Oh, and top tip, maybe turn off the TV and Instagram. All the Christmas television and IG posts seem to portray some very perfect families and Christmases, you don’t need that in your life.
16 – Be wary of excessive alcohol, unhealthy food and staying up late
As I spoke about in my overcoming depression post neglecting the big six can have a huge impact on your mental health.
I personally find that not getting enough sleep is an absolute killer for my happiness. I know others find lots of alcohol or not so healthy food is their poison.
Now obviously I’m not saying completely avoid the Winter Pimms and don’t touch the Yule log, I’m not an animal!
Just be aware that if you only survive on Winter Pimms, Yule log and three hours of sleep each night your mental health might not be in tip-top form.
Self-care for surviving Christmas with depression
Okay, now we’ve gone over the main tips to help you survive Christmas and try to avoid a depression relapse, let’s talk about self-care you can do over the holidays.
Of course, if you can you should continue all the normal self-care you do for your mental health, but here are a few I think are both easy to do and make a big difference.
Get outside and exercise
I’m not saying you should run a marathon…
(Geez, no thanks.)
But going outside for a gentle walk at Christmas time is both magical and good for your mental health.
Not only is time outside and some exercise good for happiness; it also gives you a break from the manic that is Christmas going on inside and a break from any company who perhaps say things a touch offensive (looking at you Uncle Will…)
Plus, seeing all the decorations, the frost on the trees, maybe even some snow depending on where you are in the world. Those sights can put the Christmas spirits back in you pretty darn fast if you’re started to lose the will to live.
It’s also a pretty easy thing to do without raising any eyebrows from less understanding family members.
Even if you have to do it with gritted teeth.
When we have depression it’s so easy to get stuck in our head ruminating on the more negative aspects of our lives.
I challenge you, whenever you notice your brain start to do that, start listing things you’re grateful for.
You don’t have to write anything down, just think about things you are thankful for. They don’t have to be big just really focus in on that list.
This isn’t the easiest thing to do I will admit, but it can help you from going into a full-on depressive meltdown in front of Grandma.
And you can do it anywhere without anyone knowing.
Just keep listing off the things you’re grateful for until you feel like the worst of the storm has passed.
Carve out some alone time
If you have a big family Christmas sometimes you just need to carve out some alone time no matter how much you love your fam.
If you feel uncomfortable taking yourself off somewhere to chill then make up an excuse.
You could say that you’ve started meditating and you need someone quiet to do your ten minutes each day (no one needs to know you’re playing Sudoku on your phone) or that you need to check your work emails as an important client will be contacting you over the Christmas period.
Sometimes that alone time is just what you need to be ready for another round of unwoke charades.
Try and keep as much of your normal routines as possible
I did talk about this earlier so I will keep it short, but if you can keep as close to your normal routines and habits as much as possible, particularly bedtime, what you eat and how much you drink, I find that that goes a seriously long way to keeping my mental health stable.
I mean don’t go crazy that you have to be in bed by X time and that you must start the day off with a poached egg, but just in general, if you can stick to your normal routines your body and mind will thank you for it because routines equal safety.
And safety equals a happy brain.
Hopefully, these tips and ideas have helped you answer the question of how do you beat holiday stress
Because, realistically, it’s normally the pressure we put on ourselves to make Christmas perfect that causes holiday stress.
And it’s that stress and overwhelm that then triggers depression and mental health issues to pop in a take over the festive fun.
So stop stressing over Christmas, easier said than done of course, but it doesn’t need to be perfect and it’s just a few days of the year.
Simplify your plans and always take the easy road (for example, need to bring a dish to someone’s house, buy it, don’t make it…)
And remember, you deserve to be happy at Christmas too, so make sure you’re doing things you enjoy that suit your mental health. It’s not your responsibility to fit in with everyone else’s plans.
Don’t forget to grab your free daily self-care routine I used to beat depression for good
If you struggle to prioritize yourself and the self-care you need during the holidays then this printable self-care checklist could be just the thing for you!
Click the button below to grab your copy and get ready to have steady mental health no matter what Christmas throws at you.