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The Holidays, Family, and Depression: A Survival Guide

bigstock-149353736-1There is no good time of the year to have mild to moderate depression. Once the end of the year holiday season rolls around, it isn’t a matter of dealing with the same routine day in and day out. Now there are holiday parties to attend, relatives to see, and other expectations that are either of your own making or imposed by others. While it may not seem possible, you can survive the holidays, including time that you feel must be spent with relatives you would rather avoid. Here are some tips that will help. 

Talking Things Over With Your Therapist

Whether you are remaining near home or traveling across the country, it makes sense to have one or two extra sessions with your therapist. The goal of those sessions is to identify everything that would likely cause you distress in the weeks to come. Having the chance to talk things over ahead of time provides the opportunity to come up with coping resources that help you feel more prepared. 

For example, you know that at least a couple of days will be spent around a relative that you barely speak to the rest of the year. That individual tends to find fault with everything. Knowing that the last thing you need in your life right now is more negativity, talking with your therapist provides some ideas on what you can do for your own well being when the relative starts to criticize everyone and everything in sight. A few ways to effectively create a mental barrier between you and your Scrooge of a relative won’t make those encounters all sunshine and rainbows, but they will make it possible for you to get through the time relative unscathed. 

Balance Social Engagements with Time for Yourself

Many people feel they must accept every invitation that comes their way. While you don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of time by yourself, realize that some alone time is not out of the question. It’s fine to say you already have plans and won’t be joining the family for a Sunday brunch the week before Christmas, or can only stop by for a couple of hours on New Year’s Day. Seek to find some balance in your schedule so that you do spend more time with those who get where you are right now and less time around those who don’t understand that depression is more than something you shake off at will.

Simplify Your Contributions Instead of Stressing Out

Stress is not your friend as you work through depression. In fact, too much stress will complicate things more than most people realize. As your therapist or counselor is likely to advise, come up with ways to contribute to family gatherings but alleviate some of the time and effort you have to invest in making those contributions.

This year, forget about preparing a ham or baking a cake from scratch. Call a bakery and order a cake instead. You can also order a pre-cooked ham with ease. Have a local delicatessen or restaurant prepare any side dishes that you would normally make for a party or dinner. It’s not about saving time; it is about taking care of tasks you feel that must be done without the usual amount of stress. 

Apply the same approach to gift giving. Instead of plunging into the frenzy at the local shopping centers, settle into a chair with your smartphone, laptop, or tablet. Make a quick list of what you’d like to get for loved ones and order everything online. There will be no rush, no rude shoppers or counter associates to deal with. You’ll be surprised at the way this approach does not tire you out or leave you feeling even more unhappy with the world around you. 

Safe Places Are for People with Depression Too

You know from a friend who suffers with an anxiety disorder that having what’s known as a safe place is important. For you, that can be a place you go when things start to get a little overwhelming. When relatives get into heated discussions or the youngsters are getting on your nerves, have a place that you can visit and enjoy some quiet time. It could be a park that’s in easy walking distance from a relative’s home, a nearby coffee shop, or even some part of the house that others rarely visit.

No Is an Appropriate Word

By all means, be as involved in the holiday merry making as you want. When things start to get out of hand, it’s okay to step back and say no. You don’t owe anyone an explanation and you certainly don’t need their permission. Relatives who have some idea of what you are dealing with right now will understand and not press the issue or be upset. Those who wish to be offended will get that way no matter what you do anyway, so don’t allow them to give you a ride on the guilt train. 

Remember that depression will only be with you for a time. Eventually, you will have your life back and once again feel able to cope with the madness of the holidays. For now, come up with strategies to navigate those social events and still provide yourself with time to concentrate on healing.

The Holidays, Family, and Depression: A Survival Guide

Robert Hunt

Robert Hunt is a recovering addict of 7 years. He has devoted his life to helping others suffering from chemical addictions as well as mental health challenges. Robert maintains many blogs on drug addiction, eating disorders and depression. He is a sober coach and wellness advocate and a prominent figure in the recovery community.

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APA Reference
Hunt, R. (2018). The Holidays, Family, and Depression: A Survival Guide. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Dec 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.