by Quinn Nystrom

In our American culture, I think it’s easy to buy into the sense that holidays should be the most joyful and wonderful time of year. But then if we don’t feel that way, there’s something wrong with us, and/or we’ve become Scrooge!

There are a lot of reasons why research has shown higher rates of depression and suicide around the holidays; Seasonal Affective Disorder, year-end stress, family triggers, social media images of other’s “perfect” life, etc. After leaving residential treatment back in 2012, I have tried to stick to these four strategies to keep myself in the best emotional place that I can during this stressful time.

  1. Be honest with your feelings. It’s easy to think that if I just pretend everything’s ok and that I’m happy about the holidays, that I won’t disrupt the holiday happenings. What I found is that I’m a terrible actress and by masking my true feelings, I end up doing a disservice to myself, and to others.
  2. Have a plan before the holiday. Deciding what my gameday plan is in the middle of the game (during Christmas dinner) is not going to be that helpful in my recovery. When I was in treatment I worked with an Occupational Therapist that really helped me pre-plan before stressful events. I could envision the meal, family and friend dynamics, and figure out how best to handle each one of them. Talking it out ahead of time made the day seem much more doable.
  3. Determine your accountability partner and let them know ahead of time. Similar to strategy #2, you don’t want to pick your accountability partner in the middle of the stressful event as you may not decide to pick anyone at that point. I decide ahead of the holidays what my triggers may be (and they can vary year-to-year), and then figure out if a friend or relative would be my best accountability partner. Most of my life, it was difficult for me to ask others for help and/or support, but I now know that most people are happy to help…you just need to ask them.
  4. Write a gratitude list. Look at this holiday season as a time to reflect on how far you’ve grown this past year. I know how tough it is to look at other people’s social media accounts and feel like everyone else’s life is more perfect, more successful, and easier than your own. But let’s all remind each other that social media isn’t real life, it’s what we all choose to curate about our lives. I try to take the month of December to reflect on the past 12 months and what I’ve accomplished, overcome, and gained. It’s easy to list the things that we’re not happy about with ourselves, but it takes a little more work to list the positives that have been accomplished over the year. Doing strategy #4 also has set me up to go into the New Year and not feel triggered by everyone’s New Year’s resolution posts about losing weight, getting healthy, etc. It helps me stay focused on being successful in all areas of my life…not just focusing on my external appearance.

I hope that you will have a wonderful holiday season with the people that you love the most, and look back on 2017 as being another wonderful year lived and conquered.