Maintaining mental health can often be a full-time job for those of us predisposed to depression. We need to stick to a careful sleep routine, we need to nourish our body with healthy food, and we need to build in time to rest, socialize, and work.
When the holidays come around, we often want to take a vacation from this 168 hour-a-week job.
We want to be a little more flexible.
We want to be able to stay up late playing games with family. We want to eat cinnamon rolls for Christmas brunch, and we want to go to a few more parties than usual.
More than anything, we want to enjoy the holidays and enjoy our annual reminder of the beautiful world we are fighting to recover for.
At the same time, we know letting down our guard could hamper our recovery. Consequently, we must find a balance between flexibility and responsibility during the holiday season. I am far from perfect at maintaining a healthy balance, but I have found a couple of strategies that guide me in a healthy direction!
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First, I have found I must identify my “core” responsibilities to myself.
These are the wellness practices I cannot compromise on.
For example, I must get a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night. It is easy to compromise on this, but it is the most immediate way to disarm my defenses against depressive thoughts.
However, I can still incorporate flexibility into this core responsibility. During the holidays, I allow myself to get my eight hours of sleep at different times. For example, if I want to go out or stay up late, I just allow myself to sleep in later in the morning to ensure I meet my body’s sleep needs.
I have also found I must incorporate exercise and getting outdoors at least five times a week. In the craziness of the holidays, it is easy to let these practices lose priority. However, the daily boost of energy and clarity these practices give me are foundational weapons in my depression-fighting arsenal.
However, I can still incorporate flexibility into this core responsibility, too! During the holidays, I incorporate new types of exercise. For example, instead of going for a daily run, I will often plan to walk with my family and friends, go for a bike-ride in a beautiful place, or attend a Zumba class with loved ones.
Second, I’ve found I need to make sure I incorporate at least an hour of “off” time into my routine.
During this time, I have a chance to recharge my introvert batteries, journal, reflect, and pray. It is easy to allow my desire to make the most of limited time with loved ones push myself past my healthy limits of stimulation.
In order to be fully present and healthy when I am with them, however, I must balance time with others with time to rest, refresh, and reflect.
Lastly, I have found I must be forgiving and gentle with myself.
For me, the difference between a bad day and the beginning of a relapse is perspective. I need to be willing to accept the unexpected and unplanned, the slips and the mistakes, without labeling them as a catastrophes or inevitable paths to depression.
I need to remember I can violate my “core” responsibilities and still get up and move on. I can undersleep and overwork one day without relapsing. I just need to remind myself why I am feeling down when depression tries to take my vulnerable thoughts captive.
It can be incredibly helpful to talk with your support network ahead of time, explaining your “core” responsibilities to them, allowing them to hold you accountable, while also coming to your aid when the holidays do not go as planned.
I hope that these holidays you are able to put these strategies into practice and join me on the journey to balancing flexibility with responsibility!
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