Fighting Depression During the Holiday Season

December 20th 2015

Sylvia Kim

For many people, the holiday season is a joyous time. But for those suffering from depression, the holidays can be yet another uphill battle. Although the popular belief is that depression and suicide rates increase during the holidays, this is not true according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that depression and suicide rates are at a low during the month of December.

This finding, however, does not mean that mental health challenges don't exist this time of year. Many people deal with increased stress, and seasonal affect disorder is at an all-time high. Here are some tips on how to stay positive and combat depression during the holidays.

Related: Seasonal Affective Disorder is Real and Hard to Deal With

1. Social Support

Studies show that having a support system is one of the most powerful ways that individuals can battle depression. Merily Keller, suicide prevention coordinator for Mental Health America of Texas and founding board member of the Texas Suicide Prevention Council, promotes the importance of surrounding yourself with loved ones. “Because of all the connections we have with family and friends during the holidays, depression and suicide is actually much lower," Keller said. "This is why social connections are so important. For those with depression, it’s important to keep connections during the holidays and all year round."

2. Volunteer

For those who may be away from family and friends this holiday season, volunteering is a fantastic alternative benefiting both yourself and others. When we focus on helping people in need we take the attention away from ourselves and our own problems. Volunteering at your local food bank, homeless shelter, or hospital not only broadens your point of view on everything you have to be thankful for, it also strengthens your bond to the community.

“It gets you out. It gets you moving. It gets you in contact with new people, all of which are important for people with depression.” Keller said.

3. Set Realistic Expectations

Struggling to create the perfect Christmas? Spoiler alert! It doesn’t exist! No one's Christmas is perfect, despite what you may see in holiday movies or advertisements. Lower any outlandish expectations you may have for a perfect holiday so that you can enjoy a stress-free one instead. Allow room for mistakes. Also, it’s important to understand that you don’t have to be filled with “holiday cheer” every second of every day. Don’t punish yourself if you are not feeling particularly festive. Not everyone can be Buddy the Elf. (Imagine how insufferable it would be.)

4. Exercise

Get a head start on your New Year’s resolutions by getting active this holiday season! Exercise is seen to have a positive effect on people with depression. Being physically active can help better your mood by releasing endorphins into your body. Furthermore, exercising outdoors can increase the happy feelings while supplying your daily dose of vitamin D. A great way to motivate yourself is by signing up for a holiday run. This gives you something to train for and spurs on a greater commitment to exercise consistently.

5. Get Help

If you’re feeling more than the typical “holiday stress” and are having suicidal thoughts, it is important to seek help immediately. Make an appointment to talk with a licensed therapist or counselor. Or you can talk to a trained professional on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 who can also connect you to local resources.

Depression is a serious illness. These methods, however, can help alleviate the weight of some of your symptoms. During the holidays, it’s important to be part of a community — whether it is your family or making new friends through volunteering. Be sure to get out and be active. And don’t fret if your holiday isn’t perfect. Rather, enjoy the season the best way you can.