“The house looks so festive and the kids are so excited about Christmas. I’ve already wrapped the presents and I’m starting to bake for the family’s dinner. I know Christmas is all about joy, but I’m not feeling joyful. I’m trying to act happy for everyone, but I really just want to cry. I want the holidays to be over.”

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are a favorite time for most people. They’re enjoying time with family and friends, those special foods we only eat at the holidays, and the other traditions that come around once a year. But for some people, the holidays are an emotional struggle. They try their best to enjoy them, but depression and anxiety get in the way of fun and fellowship. At a time when they’re surrounded by people they love, they feel so alone.

Depression can affect people at any time of the year, but it’s often more pronounced during the holiday season for many reasons. While they’re about having fun, the holidays are stressful — especially for the people who are expected to pull everything together, from decorating, to shopping, to cooking, to stretching a tight budget. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted, and to find yourself being less than cheery with family and friends.

Some people approach the holidays with unrealistic expectations about what they’ll do and how everyone else will behave, and then reality gets in the way. One of the kids gets sick the morning of the family gathering, someone’s travel plans fall through, the cookies get burned, Aunt Carol reminds everyone of why she’s known as Cranky Carol, and it seems like everything is ruined. If you already battle depression, situations like these can make you feel even worse.

One of the best ways to reduce holiday stress is to put less pressure on yourself. Enter the season with realistic expectations and refuse to take on more work than you can handle. It’s okay to be assertive and say no sometimes. Or look for ways to reduce the work associated with activities. Maybe instead of cooking the whole family meal, you can make it a pitch-in. You need to protect your own time and energy.

Find joy in the things that make you happy. Don’t worry about what other people are going to think of “your” holiday, because if you’re happy, they’re going to be happier, too. Savor the moments that matter most to you. Replace high-stress activities with simple new traditions, such as a family walk after Christmas dinner.

Know that it’s okay to be a little sad during the holidays, too. But if that sadness becomes overwhelming and it continues through the New Year, maybe it’s time to consider talking with one of our professional counselors. We understand depression and know proven ways to overcome it … and that may be one of the best holiday gifts you ever give yourself!

Bill Overpeck is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors. Licensed as a therapist, he provides specializes in helping people suffering from depression, panic and anxiety and other mental health issues.

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