Triggers for depression at the holidays:
- Alcohol. Lowers inhibitions, can lead to conflict, doing things you regret later.
- Perfectionism/high expectations. Feeling that you have to get everything right, the tree, the house, the gifts, yourself. Problems: 1. It’s impossible, you’ll never do it, and you’ll be disappointed and blame yourself. 2. It takes you out of the moment, keeps you thinking about superficial things and not really connecting with people.
- Trying to please everyone. Closely allied to perfectionism, the belief that you have to make everyone like you and be happy. A special problem for women in our culture. Like perfectionism, it’s impossible, and it takes you out of the moment, out of your own experience. Worst, it gives you no self, no voice, no identity of your own.
- Painful memories. We want to bathe Christmas in a rosy glow but the truth is all of us have had some real disappointments and hurts. Losses, like the first holiday without a relative who’s died or a child who’s moved away. Some pain is inevitable at the holidays, and we have to accept that. What makes the difference is what you do with those feelings. If you try to deny the pain, stuff it away, and put on a happy face, it’s going to come back to get you in some other way—often as depression. But if you just look at and acknowledge the pain, reminding yourself that you don’t have to be overwhelmed by this, perhaps share some of it with your partner, you’ll be much better off.
- Consumerism. One of life’s great misconceptions is the belief if I get what I want, I’ll be happy. Years of research, and your own experience if you look at it carefully, will tell you that’s not so: if you get what you want you will quickly get used to it and want something else instead. But we have a hard time remembering this. Advertising and the media play into these desires, telling us we can be happy if we just buy the right things, wear the right clothes, get the latest home entertainment or kitchen gadget. If that’s all you get for the holidays, you’ll be pretty miserable. Instead, open yourself up to love, caring, generosity.
- Overspending. Don’t add to your debt because it’s Christmas. The people who love you wouldn’t want you to do that. So if you start to feel guilty because you can’t afford the latest thing, try very hard to banish that guilt. It probably comes from very old feelings of insecurity, and it shouldn’t be connected to friends and family now.