depression and the most wonderful time of the year
If you’ve been around BTHR for even a split second, you’ve probably realized pretty rapidly that I’m head-over-heels in love with Christmas.
I cherish everything about this time of year. Knitted scarves and red wool berets. Peppermint hot chocolate (with sprinkles!) and wassail made by my Dad. Snowflakes on the ground and a fire crackling in the hearth. Glittery ornaments and blinking lights. Giving gifts and doing good. Giggles with my family and holiday cards from friends.
So you’d probably be surprised to hear that I, almost always, get hit with a pretty bad bout of depression around the same time as the candy canes make their appearance.
Now before I get into this in more detail, a bit of a disclaimer. I have never been diagnosed with a mental health problem and have never been evaluated by a mental health professional. When I say “depression” I mean specifically situational depression or a general decrease in contentedness for an extended period of time relating to a specific cause (or group of causes). I feel like it is completely normal for everyone to suffer from the ebbs and flows of moods. That being said, I feel like it is an entirely different animal than being clinically depressed and I am in no way pretending that I know what that feels like. I have no expertise in giving advice for mental health issues. What I am listing here is a document of my own feelings and plan of attack. Take it as it is.
Picture this: yesterday I woke up to the first snowfall of the year. Outside the window was a soft, white blanket on every surface. I wanted to love it. I wanted to embrace it. I wanted to bask in how magical the first snowfall is, but all I could do was think about how I had to get to work, need to go grocery shopping, should really wrap some gifts, pay those bills and go to the gym later. My entire day was a downward spiral. Instead of being so happy about the snowglobe outside my window, I was bogged down with life.
I have a few theories why the blahs are so rampant in December.
- The pressure of it all. For me personally, stress is a major cause of apathy. Travel arrangements. Buying the perfect gift. Baking 12 dozen of your famous cookies. Dealing with tricky relationships. The holidays are stressful! And when I get stressed out, I shut down. And when I shut down, I quickly feel guilty, lazy and unaccomplished. And those feelings do not a cheerful holiday make.
- Change in routine. Like it or not, we are creatures of habit, and the month of December is unlike any other time of year. Foods you don’t normally eat. Drinking too much. Traveling. Working on projects. It all adds up to these weeks being a little closer to chaos than normalcy. The swift and hectic change of pace makes me feel lost and uncomfortable.
- The dark. I know shorter days really do a number on my mental state. I feel like I have to get a lot more accomplished in a much shorter time—and when I don’t, I feel like I’ve failed. I’m tired so early in the evening and have a hard time waking up in the mornings.
- Money. It’s just all so expensive, isn’t it? Travel, cards, food, gift-giving, new clothes, charity, wine (oh the wine!). Babyface and I are very fortunate to be well-employed, but even for us this time of year can get quite tight financially. We refuse to go into debt for the holidays and it is a lot of stress to plan every dime out.
Now we are admittedly early on in the holiday season, but I can already feel the holiday blues creeping into my world. I’m tired constantly. I’ve taken to ordering take out for pretty much every meal. And I feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of things on my to do list. But before this funk takes over and turns me into a scrooge, I’m going to be proactive and put the jingle back in my bells through a series of action items. I will not let holiday depression ruin the most wonderful time of year!
Keep my routine as steady as possible.
I get comfort from routine and discontent from chaos. I need to focus on keeping as much as my “normal” routine alive and well as possible during this time. Sure I’ll be traveling, drinking more than usual and Christmas shopping, but those shouldn’t completely remove my go-to lifestyle principles. I’ll feel better and happier with a foundation of health and wellness.
- Make a menu and grocery shop as usual, but be sure to build in extra “easy” meals to alleviate the pressure of cooking. Veggie burgers and sweet potato fries will be fine. After all, I’ll be in the kitchen enough for other reasons, I can save the complicated dishes for January.
- Stick to my half marathon training and use the schedule to guarantee exercise and activity. Using the routine as a crutch to get me through until January is totally fine.
Fight off superwoman syndrome.
I am terribly guilty of the all-or-nothing approach to life and the holidays really bring out the worst in that for me. If I can’t win Best In Show at the cookie contest (real life example), why try at all? Or, my gifts have to look amazing so I’m going to spend days handmaking custom bows (also, real life). The truth is, everyone would much rather have a happy, cheerful Cass with stick-on bows than a grumpy Superwoman. In the end, no one really cares what your bows look like.
- For holidays, really evaluate each project and monitor the “Superwoman” status. Am I doing this because I enjoy it? Or am I doing this because if I don’t, I’ll feel like a failure? If it is the later, that’s not good enough.
- When I feel my decisions are weighing in on the “nothing” part of the all-or-nothing roller coaster, give myself this simple example. If I was driving to work one day and was pulled over for speeding and given a ticket, would I trash the rest of the day and go about breaking the law callously just because my lawful day wasn’t “perfect”? No. Cookies can be delicious and beautiful without being Best In Show.
Organize and plan it out
Failing to plan is planning to fail. I live my life by this 11 months out of the year and I need to ensure this is a strong part of my December. A well-orchestrated plan is the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling in control.
- Monitor our holiday budget precisely. Do a daily budget check with holiday purchases. Make a budget for holiday travel and stick to it.
- Keep my holiday projects to those I have planned. No need to add stress to my world just because “it would be nice.”
- Cut things that aren’t really that important. Example : I might not send out Christmas cards this year. Will anyone care? Probably not.
Embrace the changes and roll with the punches.
Even after all of this, the truth is, the season is not always smooth sailing. I need to remember that change isn’t bad and is simply the cycle of things. And if life doesn’t go as planned, dust myself off and come up with a new plan. Life does not begin or end with a failed batch of Christmas cookies.
- Try to be thankful for the early evenings. Dark nights mean my Christmas lights are extra bright and my fleece jammies feel extra cozy.
- Whenever something upsets me, ask myself a simple question, “Does it really matter?” 9 times out of 10, it doesn’t.
- Stop beating myself up about not always achieving the things I’ve listed above. A dinner of mac and cheese and a skipped workout isn’t going to hurt anyone. I am not Superwoman and that is way okay.
I already feel so much better having written this post. I ran 2 miles after work and did some strength training. I always feel better after getting my bum off the couch.
Now, I’m going to make a menu and go grocery shopping!