When you're already struggling with anxiety and depression, the holidays are especially difficult. If you're in this club that no one chooses to be a member of, you're going to want to try these self-care ideas for the 2017 holidays to help ease anxiety and depression. As we approach the one-year anniversary of actor and mental-health activist Carrie Fisher's death, one quote from her autobiographical novel Postcards From The Edge comes to mind. Fisher wrote: "It's like I've got a visa for happiness, but for sadness I've got a lifetime pass."
While it might feel like anxiety and depression has you in a vice grip this holiday season, taking time for self care can ease the burden. As a fellow lifetime warrior in the battle against depression, I know that the pressure to be merry and bright, shop for gifts, and attend endless holiday gatherings when you'd rather pull the covers over your head can be overwhelming. This is why it's especially important to take care of your mental health during the holidays when the most wonderful time of the year can feel anything but.
"The term 'Happy Holidays' is a top sentiment throughout the months of November and December, but the phrase doesn't necessarily ring true for everyone," Dr. Bal Nandra, Chicago-based Chief Medical Officer of IV Solutions, said in a press release sent to Bustle. "Family stressors, issues with money, unrealistic expectations, and a full social calendar can be overwhelming for most, but for those suffering already from depression, the holidays can take a real toll."
The struggle is real, and if you're looking for some ways to relieve the pressure, these self-care ideas can help you get through the 2017 holidays in one piece.
1. Plan Ahead For Self-Care
Personally, a big part of my depression is feeling guilty for being depressed in the first place. Psych Central reported that a study has shown that the brains of people with depression respond differently to feelings of guilt, and people who are depressed tend to feel guilty about things that other people don't. The pressure to enjoy the holidays, and the guilt over not actually enjoying yourself, can cause you to put others' needs above your own, attend events you don't feel mentally strong enough to handle, and neglect your emotional health.
Dr. Nandra noted that this is why it's important to plan ahead for self-care during the holidays. Because, if you don't build in the time to care for yourself, you might end up feeling even more depressed and anxious. Singer/songwriter Kesha is also a fellow depression warrior, and she recently penned an essay for TIME about the struggle of navigating the holidays while depressed. "Around the holidays, I often feel like I’m supposed to be everywhere, with everyone — all with the added guilt that it’s the season of giving. To fight this, I’ve developed a mantra: It’s not selfish to take time for yourself."
Self-care looks different for everyone, so choose something that you know will make you feel good. While I was going through a particularly bad stretch of depression during the 2016 holidays I watched Gilmore Girls every single day, and it helped me feel a little bit better. "Set aside time for yourself every day, even if it’s just half an hour, where you can enjoy a relaxing activity like yoga, reading, taking an art class, bubble bath, etc.," Dr. David Greuner, Surgical Director at NYC Surgical Associates tells Bustle.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
One way to avoid the guilt spiral that can occur during the 2017 holidays is to set realistic expectations for yourself. If your depression and anxiety has been making everyday activities difficult, then suddenly becoming the belle of the holiday social ball is probably going to be overwhelming. A recent survey conducted by Research Now on behalf of Fiber One noted that 74 percent of women admit they put others' needs ahead of their own, so it's important to know that you're not alone. However, when you're battling depression and anxiety you really need to put yourself first.
"It’s not your responsibility to try to make the whole world happy," Kesha wrote for TIME. "Especially since sometimes it’s not that easy to make yourself happy, either — even with all the celebrations and gifts and seasonal decorations, foods and drinks, which can only do so much. So don’t ask yourself things like 'It’s almost Christmas, why am I not happy?' That can turn into a shame cycle. It’s just another day — don’t put unrealistic expectations on it, and don’t beat yourself up."
3. It's OK To Say "No"
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, then you know that saying "no" is often difficult because you don't want to disappoint others, and you may feel like declining an invitation will let people down. When you're depressed you might even feel more pressured to say "yes" if you're operating under the notion that your depression is already letting others down. While this is the guilt story your brain tells you, you don't have to listen to it. Rewrite the narrative, and put yourself first.
"Many of us are afraid of conflict. We don’t like others to be angry with us or critical of us," F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. explained on Psychology Today. "We therefore avoid saying 'no' when we are afraid that it will put us into conflict with someone else, whether that someone is an intimate partner, a colleague or friend, or a supervisor or boss."
If your family holiday gatherings, or work office party, regularly devolves into a dark and twisty nightmare, and you feel like attending will make you even more anxious and depressed than you already are, you don't have to go. "If an event has caused stress in the past, it will likely continue to do so," Dr. Nandra said. "Learn to say no."
4. Check In With Your Support System
With all the pressure to spread holiday cheer, for people suffering from anxiety or depression the urge to isolate can be strong. However Dr. John Mayer, clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand, tells Bustle that this is when you should reach out to your support system. "The holidays make us even busier than usual, take time to see your therapist."
If you don't have a support system, you can see a therapist on the Doctor On Demand app without ever leaving your home. While you might be tempted to go it alone, Dr. Nandra said it's important to "acknowledge your feelings and reach out to others for reassurance and support." Additionally, these mental health apps can connect you with self-care techniques, therapists, and peers going through the same things as you, which could help you feel more calm.
"Talk to a friend you trust or a therapist," Kesha suggested in TIME. "Sit out one of the holiday gatherings in favor of some personal time. Just do whatever helps you calm down and gives you a break from the stress. Download one of the many meditation apps for your phone. I particularly like 'Calm' and 'End Anxiety.'"
5. Get Enough Sleep
Any disruption to your regular routine can cause anxiety or depression to worsen, and neglecting your sleep can be a big trigger. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep, at least eight hours every night," Dr. Greuner tells Bustle. "The holidays may mean late nights and early mornings, but try to arrange your schedule so you get enough sleep every night, which will help you manage stress levels as well as keep you healthy."
Personally, when I don't get enough sleep I feel anxious AF, and I almost always end up crying over something silly, like the drug store being out of my favorite toner. According to WebMD, "Having a sleep disorder does not in itself cause depression, but lack of sleep does play a role. Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can make depression worse."
6. Maintain Your Healthy Habits
The holidays are generally a time of overindulgence for everyone. And, if you're dealing with depression and anxiety, you might be tempted to ditch your self-care habits in favor of self-soothing with too much [insert your vice here]. "People tend to abandon healthy habits during the holidays which can weaken the immune system and be another reason why people are more likely to get sick," Dr. Greuner tells Bustle.
Additionally, stress can weaken your immune system and cause you to get sick, which is the last thing you need while trying to manage anxiety and depression. "When you’re over stressed your body creates excess cortisol, a stress hormone which can prevent your immune system from functioning properly, which is why it’s important to find ways to manage stress," Dr. Greuner says.
If your regular yoga or meditation habit is making you feel better, it's especially important to maintain that routine during times of stress. Seriously, after a month of meditating everyday, I skipped a few days when I was feeling stressed on a work trip, and my anxiety returned full force. I was crying over things like making a wrong turn and not understanding directions to put together a piece of furniture. "Continue to exercise and eat healthy throughout the holidays," Dr. Nandra advised. "Don’t abandon positive habits."
7. Give Yourself A Break
I don't know who decided that the holidays are when you're supposed to more things in one months than you do all year, but I'd really like to have a talk with that person. The December marathon of eating, shopping, and socializing can drain even the most mentally healthy people, so don't beat yourself up if you don't want to jump on the happy holidays bandwagon. "... remember to give yourself a break!" Kesha advised in TIME.
I know how hard the holidays can be when doing anything related to merrymaking may seem as difficult as lifting an object off of the ground using only your mind. Remember, you are not alone, even if it feels that way sometimes. And, my holiday gift to you is letting you know that self care is the most important gift you can give yourself during the holidays. Because, you're worth it.