7 tips for managing depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays

Like most moms, my stress level skyrockets during the holidays. Don’t get me wrong. December can be fabulously fun. But those of us with young kids know it can also be fabulously stressful.

Shopping, cleaning, cooking, decorating, wrapping, helping with special school homework projects, planning, donating time … AHHHHHHH!!!!

No wonder we’re all feeling like we’re going to lose it.

But for me and others who manage depression and anxiety, this time of year can be even tougher. And though I have been really good over the last several months (YAY), the holidays can trigger me.

In the past I’ve had to work really hard to fight off the feelings that can creep in. I really want to looooove the holidays like so many moms do. My kids are little. They love Santa and Christmas and decorating and making cookies. They want to be around me. Near me. Cuddling with me.

I know they won’t be little for much longer. So I want to enjoy my girls, their holiday wonder, and the fact they still think I’m the BEST THING EVER and still want to be around me all the time.

Because someday I’m going to ask them to bake cookies, and I’ll get some big eye rolls as they continue to text their friends while never actually looking up at me.

I am not looking forward to that day.

Every year, I look back at my list of ideas on how to navigate this potentially tough time. And when I follow my own advice, things go well. And last year I did loooooove the holidays! Well, mostly. 😉

If you deal with depression and anxiety, or if you’re a person who always gets really stressed during this time of year, I hope my ideas help you, too. Here we go…

Honest Mom’s tips on how to (successfully) manage depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays

1. Do just a few things well. Or maybe even just one thing. Especially during the holidays, we moms put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything and do it all perfectly. Lighten up on yourself, mama!

Don’t decorate the entire house from head to toe if it stresses you out – just focus on the living room and make that one room beautiful.

Do you really like sending out holiday cards? Or do you do it because you feel like you have to? If it’s the latter, save yourself the time and money and don’t send them this year. Aunt Edna will survive. Or she can get on Facebook like the rest of the world and see pics of your kids there.

Another idea: Now instead of baking dozens of cookies from scratch, I buy pre-made dough. My kids only care about the part where they cut out the cookies and decorate them, anyway. Less effort for me, more fun for them.

Give yourself a break and take a few shortcuts. It’ll definitely cut down on the holiday stress.

2. Skip the “obligation” parties that stress you out. You know the party that a certain mom throws every year that everyone seems to go to? The one that requires you to dress “casual chic,” bring a Yankee Swap gift, bake six dozen cookies for an exchange, and bring a bottle of wine and a homemade appetizer?

Yeah, that party. Skip it. Along with any other parties that aren’t actually fun. Parties should be FUN, remember?

3. Don’t overcommit to volunteer activities. Sign up for one extra activity. Volunteer at the food pantry. OR your kid’s classroom holiday party. OR the community Santa parade.

Remember, you are not the only person in your community who can volunteer. You do not have to carry the load. Pick one and feel good about your contribution.

4. Don’t make any big changes. Now is not the time to try a new antidepressant (unless your doctor really recommends it), paint a room in your house, or get a pixie haircut. For the love of God, woman, don’t set yourself up for disaster. Wait until a much less stressful time.

5. Get some alone time. And I’m not talking about going to the grocery store alone. Or holiday shopping for anyone (who isn’t you). I’m talking about plopping your butt in a coffee shop and reading a book for an hour.

Ask someone, anyone who is remotely trustworthy, to watch the kids – and get out of your house and away from all your obligations so you can decompress for a little while. This is good for everyone, but especially depression sufferers – it can really help to reset your mood.

6. Try to turn a sad moment into a nice memory. This one is hard, I know. But here’s my experience. A few years ago, I was feeling really down about my dad’s death and him not being around. He just loved Christmas so much. I was dissolving into tears when I noticed the bowl of walnuts I had out – and remembered how my dad loved cracking open walnuts with me when I was a kid.

So I poured myself some eggnog (his favorite), cracked open some walnuts, and listened to Christmas music for 10 minutes while my kids went sledding outside. It eased the sadness to do something that reminded me of my dad, instead of just sitting on the couch and bawling.

7. Exercise and sleep. No, I’m not kidding. I am 100% serious, mama. I know, I know, how is there time to sleep, let alone exercise? But if you are dealing with depression and/or anxiety, sleep and exercise are CRUCIAL.

It’s hard to drag my butt to yoga on a weeknight after the kids are in bed. But I really try to do it. I’m also power walking a morning or two with my neighbors. And I can tell you – it helps me feel so much better. You know, exercise, endorphins, blah, blah, blah. It’s true.

Sleep is no joke, either. Put down the laundry basket, stop wrapping gifts, and enough with cleaning the kitchen. (Or if you’re me – step away from the Internet.) Just Go To Bed. It’ll all still be there in the morning. And no one will be the worse for it if it doesn’t get done – except you.

Are you doing anything these next couple of months to ease the stress of the holidays? What ideas can you add to this list?

this post was originally published in 2012, which is why there are some pretty old comments!

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51 Replies to “7 tips for managing depression, anxiety and stress during the holidays”

  1. I love this post, JD! It is so well written and your tips are spot on. I need to do #7 way more. I think that is 75% of my problem. And I absolutely love that you ate walnuts, drank eggnog, and listened to Christmas music when you thought of your dad.

    I have been working on a post for Her View From Home about being sad and depressed during the holidays. I hope you don’t mind if I link to this wonderful post. Your tips can help a lot of people. Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Kathy! Of course you can link to it – I’d be thrilled.

      It’s so easy to overlook sleep and exercise. And honestly? I hate most kinds of exercise. Zumba is helping – I’m finding it fun.

    1. My holidays are anything BUT perfect! And I’m sure 99.99% of moms feel the same way. I think it’s so important to recognize that “perfect” isn’t attainable – or really, desirable – in the end…

  2. I loved loved this post. I have found so many of these things to work.

    For instance, do one thing good. I got my tree up, and it’s beautiful. Other than that I’m not decorating. I’m also not sending out Christmas cards (actually haven’t since 2009 lol)

    I also skipped Bible Study this morning simply because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I needed a break. Today I’m catching up from the cookie making house blow up we had yesterday!

    1. I’ve been skipping events, too. I used to pressur myself to go to everything. I don’t know why – my presence at a party or event isn’t going to make or break someone’s day, that’s for sure! 😉

  3. Great tips, JD! Even though I’m not a mom, I still get stressful about the holidays, especially if people will like the gifts I picked out. Sigh. I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind when I feel overwhelmed! 🙂

  4. Would you believe that I actually have an Aunt Edna. And I’ve decided to not send Christmas cards out this year, for the first time ever. And that just yesterday we received our card from Aunt Edna, and had a discussion about how upset she is going to be when she doesn’t get a card from us. My husband said “She’ll get over it.” Honest. ~kinda scary how you did that… 🙂

    1. Ha! Too funny. You could always print out a picture and glue it to a card just for good old Aunt Edna. Or you could be firm and insist the old gal get with the times and get on Facebook. 😉

    1. Thanks, Lauren. I’ve been especially emotional about my dad this year. I don’t know why – it’s Christmas #3 without him, but last year was easier. I’m feeling a little blue today, so I think I’ll repeat that little ritual later. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I think when I started embracing the goal of underachieving this holiday season, I started to relax.

      I’m sorry #6 hits home for you, too. Hope you’re doing ok. 🙂

  5. Yes, yes, YES! As Queen Anxiety over here, I couldn’t agree more with your strategies. I just sat down and addressed ten Christmas cards. Ten. I’ll thow them in the mail, then do ten more in a few days, and so on.

    I love your idea of doing a few things and doing them well—and also saying no to volunteer activities. Yes, yes!

    I totally hear ware you’re coming from. Though I am one of those people who gushes over the holidays, I also have a ton of anxiety that I have to manage at the same time. For me, it’s a balance.

    Well written, JD, as always.

    1. Thanks, Steph! I, too, have been doing my Christmas cards in batches. Good call. Yes, it is definitely a balance – I am trying not to overdo the Christmas decorating even though it’s so tempting, because I love it. But if I overdo it, I stress. Balance, balance, balance.

    1. Oh, I’m so so sorry to hear this. So sorry. This Christmas season has been hard for me. Harder than last year, for some reason. It does help to try to think of happy memories when I’m about to cry. But sometimes you just need to let yourself be sad, you know? Hang in there. 🙂

  6. Excellent tips. I’ve been thinking about painting the family room. Which is quite comical when I consider the ridiculous piles of unfolded laundry lying around. And the fact that I decided to not do the two more baskets of laundry because I literally had nowhere to put it once it was clean! This post also reminds me I need to buy two dozen mini muffins for the class holiday party on Monday, because I certainly don’t plan on making them myself!

  7. JD, this post is oozing with awesome advice! These are all so important and great words to live by during the holidays and all year round. Hope you’re having a great start to your week!

  8. This is a great list and I need to remember it. This time of year is the hardest for me, starting at Thanksgiving. I stepped on the scale this morning and realized I’ve gained 5 pounds since mid-November. That’s…not good. I have to figure out how to take these steps and make them work before I continue to eat my feelings.

  9. I so get it! I decided this year Not to attend some things and Not to participate in other's parties that usually stressed me to the "max". I believe I am going to carry this forward into the New Year with reflection, prayer and me time for a change.

  10. I am not a fan of this time of year; as a matter of fact, I’m not much of a fan of any holiday…except Mother’s Day. I know that is a holiday I have earned- lol!

    I take a lot of grief from people around me who just love the crap out of ‘this time of year’ but I stand my ground and keep my world as simple as possible – it helps (me) and annoys (them).

    My tree is down now and the house is ‘back to normal’ –

  11. Thank you for for sharing your tips on managing depression, anxiety and stress. We all need this, not only during holidays but also on the days when we tend to be very busy. Stress is not good for our health, so everybody must follow your advice. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  12. Alone time and sleep- if I don’t get those, it’s not pretty.

    I’ve learned to leave some things to others and only take on what I really want to(or absolutely have to). For Thanksgiving, I ordered a ready made meal from our grocery store. It’s actually really good. Then I’m going to make sweet potato casserole, mac & cheese, and pecan pie on my own. We’ll have a great dinner, but without as much effort from me.

  13. I can't tell you how much I appreciated this post. I go through these spurts. Today, I got out work, stopped by the store to get salt, and made a dozen salt dough ornaments with my son, and then did bath time with song singing and a bed time story. But I don't know what tomorrow could bring. Tomorrow could be another day that I sit on the couch, half angry and half ready to cry, and I have my husband handle it all. I'm trying to focus on now. Right now I feel good, and i'm going to do all I can to keep feeling good, and do these little things while I feel good. Thanks again, I plan to keep all these tips in mind.

  14. I am SO happy you posted this. I’ve been trying to ignore that feeling creeping in too, but it just comes up so quickly and stays for the long haul. My mind is everywhere during the holidays. I’ve really been focusing on enjoying my warm home with my son, not worrying about getting to all of the family’s homes, and just being in the moment.

    Both my boyfriend and I have separated parents so 4 of each holiday is a bit unrealistic, but they always expect it from us. We decided this year (after a stressful time last year) that we are going to just relax as much as possible and get to the family when we get to them. And next year, we’re considering celebrating at our house and inviting family over. It’s much harder to travel around with little ones, so that is another thing that really shoots my anxiety through the roof.

  15. I saw a speaker a few years ago who talked about this very topic. One of her props was a picture of Martga Stewart inside the Red Cross out sign (sorry Martha). It was such a great visual reminder. We do not have to obligate ourselves to meet that unrealistic standard. For the record, Martha has a team of people doing all of her crafting and baking- and no little kids. Moms are so responsible for making Christmas happen, that we put immense pressure on ourselves to make it perfect. I think remembering to keep it simple is a good focus. I’m trying to learn that myself. Let’s not spend so much energy making sure our families enjoy the season, that there is nothing left for us!

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