Every year around mid-November, I start to become filled with heaviness and dread due to the inevitable coming of the holidays.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not Scrooge (although I hate parts of the holidays). I love the meaning of Christmas, I love giving to others, and I love spending time with my family and friends. However, the holidays in combination with my depression suck the life out of me every year and that tends to overshadow all of the good.
This is the hardest thing about Christmastime for me–being in a time of joy, hope, and love, but only feeling empty and numb. Often this leads to my feeling guilty about my lack of ‘Christmas spirit,’ which only compounds the misery and depression I feel.
For years, I tried to combat this depression by reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for during the holidays.
I am grateful to be with my family, even if it exhausts me. I am grateful to be able to give to others, even if the act of giving depletes me. I am grateful for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, even if my depression causes me to not care. And for years, I have felt more guilt because reciting all I had to be grateful for did not make me feel grateful or joyful or anything.
Through my recovery journey, I have learned whatever I am feeling, regardless of external circumstances or the time of year or how much I have to be thankful for, is acceptable and valid. Even though I am not always filled with joy and peace and gratitude and whatever else I ‘should’ be feeling at Christmas, it is okay.
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There is no right and wrong way to feel during the holidays. I learned to remind myself of this a lot.
But none of this makes the holiday season any easier for me to handle. The holidays are still hard. However, recovery taught me being intentional about self-care makes them easier.
At first, I had a hard time convincing myself I deserved to take extra time for myself during a season when I ‘should’ be giving endlessly. I was afraid of appearing selfish or less than the ideal Christian during Christmas, but I have learned not engaging in self-care makes me less able to give to and be with others.
I cannot constantly be pouring from my cup into the cups of others without taking the time to refill my own. If I am to give to others in any form during the holidays, it is essential I also give to myself through self-care.
First and foremost, self-care involves sticking to as much of a routine as I can during the holiday chaos.
This means keeping a regular sleep schedule, making sure I eat balanced and regular meals, and doing as much as I can to keep the days leading up to a hectic day as normal as possible. Little things like getting adequate sleep and feeding my body regularly (and not skipping a meal to save up for a big Christmas dinner or holiday party) can make a huge difference in my mood.
Secondly, I try to take time for myself as much as I can, in whatever form I can.
My parents, brother, and I travel a lot during the holidays since both sides of my family live out of state, so once I’m visiting with family, it can seem like I am never alone. For an introvert like me, this is especially draining, so I try to get time to myself by taking walks in the snow, offering to watch the very tiny humans, finding an empty (or at least quiet!) room, and writing or reading for a while.
Sometimes, though, this alone time is not possible. My dad’s family is very large, which means there sometimes aren’t places where I can be alone because of the number of people. Or if my parents and I are staying overnight in a hotel, people, either my family or strangers, are everywhere. It is important for me to do something soothing during these times like knitting, doing a puzzle, or if appropriate, blocking everyone out with headphones and music. If I’m at home, I try to do nice things for myself like take a bubble bath, paint my nails, watch a movie, or whatever feels like it would help restore me and ease my depression.
Lastly, another vital part of self-care during the holidays is to honor my limitations.
This involves saying ‘no’ if I think something is going to be too much for me emotionally, physically, or mentally. Sometimes this is staying home from Christmas carolling, sometimes this is not going to play in the snow with my cousins. Other times it is leaving a party early or not going at all. I have a finite amount of energy during the holidays, so I have to respect that and not push myself too far.
During the holidays, I can get so caught up in taking care of others by giving that I forget I also need to give to myself through self-care. The times when I am not engaging in self-care are always the times when my depression overwhelms and consumes me, and since the holidays make me more vulnerable to depression, I’ve learned self-care is all the more essential in order for me to maintain my recovery.
Christmastime is the season of giving. What better gift to give than one of life and recovery?
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