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!

This is what a depressed mom looks like.

regular, normal women and moms deal with depression

Does the graphic surprise you? Are you shocked that women and moms with depression can look so normal – like the lady who lives next door or the woman you work with?

Or maybe you’re looking at the faces above and thinking, Wow – I had no idea that women like me are cursed with depression. I thought I was the only one.

Either way, if that’s your reaction, I totally get it.

Because when I confide in someone that I deal with depression, this is the response I often get:

“I had no idea you deal with depression. You seem like you have it all together. You seem so … normal.”

People are always so surprised. Because on the outside, I look like a regular, suburban, 30-something mom. I generally look put together. In a decent mood. You know … normal.

When I’m depressed, I don’t look sad, angry, anxious. Like I feel like I’m falling apart. Like I’m ready to scream at my kids for every little thing they do. Like I’m worrying I will blurt something that will make their little faces crumple in sadness or worse – fear.

I also don’t look dirty, frantic, or bizarre. I don’t act erratic or crazy. I look and act like me. Just maybe a little quieter, a little sadder, a little less of myself.

When I am struggling with depression, I look normal on the outside. Because I AM normal. I just have depression, too.

If there is one thing I want people to understand about depression, it’s this: Depression often – usually – looks “normal.” Because “normal” people struggle with depression.

Some people will bristle at a comparison I am about to make – and honestly, I’m not sure why – but I think my depression isn’t different from many other chronic diseases. I have friends, acquaintances, and relatives who deal with lupus, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, and other awful diseases that flare up and seemingly go away – just as my depression does.

I am not always depressed, nor do I always have to be on medication. My depression comes and goes. When it’s here, I take meds for it. When it’s gone, I don’t.

And yes, I know that many, many people have constant depression and have to take meds and go to therapy all the time. And you know what? I think their depression isn’t any different from any other disease that needs to be constantly monitored and cared for and medicated so the person who has the disease can feel normal.

(There’s that word again.)

It bothers me that there is such a stigma about depression. I can understand it – anything that messes with our brains is scary – but it still makes me mad that I’m afraid to talk about it much. But I’m writing about it, at least. And I’m glad that I am.

Because if I can help some moms feel less alone, and if I can help some other people understand that regular, everyday people deal with depression – well, that makes me so happy.

If you have a friend or family member who confides in you that they struggle with depression and take medication, just remember: They’re just as normal as your friend with diabetes or your cousin with lupus. And they’re still the person you know and love.

Are you hesitant to tell close friends and relatives about your depression? Is it difficult to explain that having depression doesn’t make you “crazy”?

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

photo credit: Pavel P. via photopin cc | photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopincc | photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopincc | photo credit: Kris Krug via photopincc | photo credit: afunkydamsel via photopincc | photo credit: epSos.de via photopincc | photo credit: lauritadianita via photopin cc | photo credit: rockygirl05 via photopincc | photo credit: John Ashburne via photopincc

To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depression…

To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depression

To all you moms dealing with anxiety and depressionDear mom struggling with depression and anxiety,

I know how you’re feeling and you’re not alone. That’s the first thing I want you to know.

I know the lies depression and anxiety tell you. That you’re a failure because you didn’t get to everything that you should have gotten done today. That your kids deserve a better mother than you. That no one really cares and no one would miss you if you were gone.

I know that tight feeling you have in your chest that prevents even the best-practiced yoga breathing from relieving your anxiety. I know the teary breakdowns from overwhelming tidal waves of emotion. And I know that racing-mind feeling that won’t let you fall asleep at night.

You probably deal with a seemingly endless cycle of ups and downs. A medication works for a while, you feel like yourself again, and you dare to dream you’ve found the answer. Then a few months later, the symptoms return. You try to increase the medication, but the side effects are too rough. So you begin the process of switching meds, hoping the next one will work. Or you add another to what you’re taking. Or you try alternative therapies to manage mental health. Something works for a while, then it doesn’t.

Up. Down. Up. Down.

Such is the challenge of dealing with a chronic illness, physical or mental. I know people with Parkinson’s who deal with the same ups and downs with medications. It sucks.

I get it.

But listen. Even though things seem really bad right now, I want you to hear this: It’s worth it to keep fighting.

It’s sometimes hard to believe, but it’s true. I think it’s especially hard to believe when you’re someone like me who has been dealing with depression and anxiety for over six years — ever since I was diagnosed with postpartum depression — and you’re really, really tired. You’re down, you’re beaten, and you’ve had enough.

When you’re in a low point, it’s really easy to forget how it feels to feel good. Normal. It seems like you’ll never find normal again. But you will.  I did, and I’m relishing that normal right now because I know it likely won’t last for longer than a few months. But I’ve come to peace with the crappy ups and downs of depression and anxiety. I enjoy the good times and fight my way out of the bad times. This is my challenge in life, my mountain to climb, my burden to bear. Everyone has something, and this is my something.

But let me tell you this: I know that I can tell you to keep fighting and that things will get better because I’m in a good place right now. When I am down and feeling depressed and anxious, though, I sometimes wonder if my kids would be better off without me. I worry I am negatively affecting them and ruining their lives, and anguish that maybe if they had a different mom, they’d be better off.

I can’t feel the love in their hugs. I can’t see the adoration in their eyes. I can’t understand that if I wasn’t here, they would be inconsolable.

That is how depression lies to me.

Yet now, because I’m feeling like me, my kids get off the bus in the afternoon and nothing feels better than their happy hugs. I revel in hearing their stories about their days. I see their love for me in their faces, I feel it in their skinny little arms wrapped around my waist, and in their sticky smooches on my cheeks.

So I want you to reach back into your memory and find these kinds of happy times with your friends, family, and loved ones — times you had fun and laughed and enjoyed life. You might not remember how great those happy feelings felt. But I’m telling you, you felt them. And you will again.

It’s worth it to keep fighting, because the happy times, the normal times, those are things that are worth existing for. You’ll feel them again. You will. Just keep going and you’ll get there.

xoxo,
JD, aka Honest Mom

PS: I really, really want to encourage all moms dealing with depression and/or anxiety to reach out to a doctor if you haven’t yet. Call your primary care doc and ask for an appointment right away. If you don’t have health insurance, I have a list of free and low-cost resources for therapists and prescriptions in this blog post. And of course, in an emergency dial 9-1-1 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They have trained professionals available to help you 24/7. There is no shame in asking for help. Ever. We are moms. Being a mom means doing hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing is asking for the help you need.

PPS: I have a private Facebook group for Honest Mom fans, and you’re welcome to join it. We talk about parenting challenges and mental health, and share both the tough stuff and the fun stuff. If you’re interested in joining it, friend me on Facebook and then send me a message. Ask me to add you to my private Facebook group for Honest Mom fans. Since it is private, no one can see that it exists, see what you post, or know that you are in it. I hope to see you there!

[Tweet “This post is for all you who are struggling with anxiety or depression. Keep fighting.”]

photo credit: sad via photopin (license)