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!

9 things I wish I’d known about postpartum depression

Well, hi there! I know it’s been a little quiet here on the blog. You know how it goes: new projects at work, kids’ schedules, life, craziness, blah, blah, blah. Plus I’ve been a little unmotivated, to be honest. I even started wondering if it was time for me to quit blogging, and though I decided I wouldn’t, I still haven’t had the drive to blog late at night or early in the morning.

But then I got a phone call. I was away on vacation with no internet service. When I landed in Boston, I dreaded checking my email and voicemails, but one message caught my attention: My friend Brenna from Suburban Snapshots, telling me that the Today Show’s website was looking for me.

Huh?

So I checked my email and quickly got in touch with the editor who was trying to find me (shout-out to another awesome friend, Suzanne from Toulouse & Tonic, who told the editor I was on vacation and to please wait until I got back!). The editor wanted me to write a post about PPD, since it was a relevant topic with Hayden Panettiere checking herself into a clinic for PPD treatment. One thing led to another and now…

I have an article on Today.com! It’s called 9 things I wish I’d known about postpartum depression and I hope you’ll go read it.

If you want to show your support, you can comment on the Today Show’s Facebook page and/or Today Parents’ Facebook page. (As you may know, the more people who comment/like, the more people will see the post. And given this topic, the more women who see it, the better.)

Being on Today.com is kind of a big deal for me, professionally. Being paid to write for a major website is awesome resume fodder, and hopefully I will get to write more for Today. But what’s really exciting is that the Today Show is an incredible forum to reach more moms who may be suffering in silence. That’s the whole reason I started Honest Mom: to help moms dealing with depression and anxiety know that they are not alone and they do not need to be ashamed. And that’s why, even if I take a blogging break here and there, I’ll keep writing here on Honest Mom. I’m re-energized now and ready to rock!

I have 40-50 Honest Moms Speak Out essays waiting in the wings, and I’m looking forward to bringing a new one to you each week. So many women want to tell their stories, and now I just need to publish them! I’ll keep blogging about parenting and mental health and bringing you good stuff on Facebook and Twitter — so I hope you’ll keep following along and sharing the posts that you like. The more women we reach, the more we’ll chip away at the ridiculous stigma attached to mental health.

Have a wonderful week!
JD, aka Honest Mom

 

photo credit: “Mother and Son” via photopin (license)

How to go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling accomplished

 

The other day I finally I figured out the source of much of my stress. It’s something so simple that you might roll your eyes at me when I tell you what it is. But it dawned on me while I was loading the dishwasher.

I was staring at the sink, annoyed that I couldn’t fit that one last cup and bowl into the dishwasher. If I could fit those in, and if I could find ten more minutes to get those pots cleaned, and if I could manage to wipe down the sink, I’d be done. Finished. Something would actually be accomplished around here.

But I had run out of time and space. So my task was unfinished. And I felt unaccomplished because I couldn’t check it off my list.

This small thing annoyed me and frustrated me more than it should have. Why? Why was this small, silly thing so bothersome to me?

I leaned against the sink, sucking down my iced coffee, looking at the dishes, and holding my list of to-dos in my other hand.

And then BOOM. It hit me.

My to-do list was sabotaging me. It was making me feel stressed out and like a big failure. And there was an easy fix I could implement right away.

How to go from overwhelmed to accomplished: Using lists the right way

But let me back up. I do have a system and it does (usually) work really well.

Truthfully, I have several to-do lists. I used to have one, huge, loooooong list that was immensely stressful to look at. I kept it on the computer in my iCloud notes so it would sync across my laptop, phone, and iPad. The syncing was nice, but the list was scary and stressful.

So I changed my system. I went back to using my trusty notebook and I broke my to-do list into several master lists: Home, Kids, Work, Blog, Personal. One on each page of the notebook.

On Sunday night of each week (ideally) I make a single, less overwhelming list of to-dos for the week. I’ve found this to be WAY less stressful for me, and keeps me out of my habit of endlessly going over each of the lists, wondering what I’m forgetting. If it’s not on the week’s list of to-dos, I’m not thinking about it. Done and done.

However.

I’ve been doing two major things wrong:

1) I add things to my master lists that are, by nature, things that will never, ever, ever be done. Like doing laundry. Washing dishes. Yard maintenance. House cleaning. Putting away laundry. (And am I the only one who has baskets of clean laundry that sit around the house for weeks on end?)

2) I add things that are enormous projects that will never get done in one sitting. Like sorting through a year’s worth of school papers. Creating my media kit. Culling through and printing all our pictures from our 2013 Disney trip.

So what am I doing about it?

Making more lists, of course.

I have two new master lists: “Ongoing” and “Bigger Projects.”

And I’m being more realistic about what should go on those lists. For example, I wrote a blog post for another website and it took several sittings to finish it. I knew it would. So that post should have gone on the “bigger projects” list, because it wasn’t something I could get done in one day. Instead, it sat on my weekly list for several weeks in a row, stressing me out.

The Ongoing list? It’s got the tasks that need to eventually be attended to but will never be totally done: Laundry. Dishes. Yard work. House cleaning. It’s there just to remind me that those things exist. Maybe most people don’t need that reminder, but I do because my brain works like this.

If I really think I can accomplish a certain task related to one of those two new categories, I put it on my weekly list. Like “trim bush next to front door.” That’s a doable task. “Do yard work” isn’t.

So that’s how I’ve dialed down my stress and created a sense of control in my very out-of-control life.

What do you think? Are you a list maker? Do you like the idea of master lists and a weekly list? Would this kind of system work for you?

Note: This is a revised, previously-published post, so that’s why some comments are from a while ago.  🙂

photo credit: Hammonton Photography via photopin cc