No matter where you turn during the holidays, it can feel like everyone is trying to push merriment and joy your way. Sure, it's a nice sentiment. But if you're someone with depression, then all this messaging about happiness and cheer might make you feel guilty about how you actually feel on a regular basis, according to Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW, a relationship therapist in New Jersey and New York.
"People may feel pressured to feel or present themselves to family members or friends in a way that shows they're okay," Dr. Forshee says.
And, for some people, this can add a layer of pressure and stress to an already tense time.
It's common to feel triggered or depressed around the holidays, according to Dr. Forshee. For example, you might have negative thoughts and feelings about what you have, or what you wish you had, Dr. Forshee says. Or, if you recently lost a loved one or are going through a transition time, it can make you feel down. "It really does cause people to be vulnerable to falling into a slump or depression," Dr. Forshee says.
Many people recognize these feelings, and then try to put on a cheerful face so they don't bring gloom and doom to another person's "happy" time, Dr. Forshee says. "They don’t want to feel like they're vicariously making other people depressed because they're down," she says. "[But] putting on a facade is one of the worst things somebody could do for their own emotional, psychological health."
If this is how you tend to feel around the holidays, it's important to ask for help, Dr. Forshee says. Often, people assume that their loved ones won't be there for them when they're feeling sad or depressed. "[Depression] really does generate more beliefs that are not true or real, such as: They may get annoyed with me because I continue to be upset about this, or, They're going to judge me," she says. The reality is that your friends and family might be more willing to help than you might think.
One small thing you can do in advance is have a candid conversation with a family member, friend, or partner who you know will be at your holiday events, and can be there for you emotionally, Dr. Forshee says. For example, you could let your sibling know that you're going through a tough time and may need them to validate your emotions, buffer difficult questions, or covertly whisk you away if something triggering comes up, she says. That way, if you do feel bummed during a holiday party, they'll be ready to help.
Also, remember that your holiday doesn't have to be perfect, says Ken Goodman, LCSW, member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "There's an image that you see on TV or in commercials, of how holidays are supposed to be," Goodman says. "You have to let go of that perfection and embrace imperfection in order to enjoy life as much as you can."
Once the holidays pass, you might still feel depressed, which is normal, but can be a sign that you need to seek emotional support from a mental health professional, according to the American Psychological Association. And hey, what better time to do that than at the start of a new year?
If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call Mind on 0300 123 3393.