Coping with the Holidays During an episode of depression or other mental illness

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Traditional family gatherings, such as during the winter holiday season, can be especially stressful for someone who is suffering from a depressive disorder or other mental illness. Here are a few tips that may help alleviate the stress, or at least decease it somewhat.

Be Kind to yourself. This may be the most important suggestion of all. Realizing your illness is likely to make the holidays more stressful, either due to the need for aggressive treatment while other family members are gathering for holiday meals and gift exchanges, or simply due to a need for time spent away from the crowds, is a significant factor in aiding the depressed individual.

Watch your expectations. Few of us really experience picture perfect Norman Rockwell style holidays. Between the rise in the divorce rate and thus the stress of arranging for shared visitations and custody during the major holidays, to concerns over finances and ordinary job stress, most American citizens find themselves stressed during the winter months. With that in mind, understand that the depressed individual may feel these stressors even more intensely, thus it is vital that they reduce their expectations. Not every family member at the dinner table will be educated as to mental illness, and there may be more than a few suggestions to simply “take a walk; you’ll be over that it no time”.

Spend time alone to “regroup”, in whatever way works best for you. If reading or knitting is what helps you to relax, try these. Music with headphones or relaxation tapes, time alone in your room either napping or writing poetry, whatever it is you need to do to gain some quiet time before facing the crowds again.

Keep in touch with those members of your family and friends who are understanding and supportive either by phone or email- especially when things become more stressful.

Avoid alcohol even during toasts- it interacts negatively with almost every psychotropic medication, and is a depressant in itself.

By attempting to use at least one of the above suggestions, you may find yourself being able to enjoy the holiday cheer in spite of a mood disorder or other mental illness.

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