For those being treated for depression, and for those who suffer SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) during the less sunny months of the year, the holidays can make coping with depression become more difficult. While people being treated for depression know the holidays should be a happy time, the additional stresses, hard on anyone, can be even worse for people battling depression.

How To Cope With Depression During The Holidays

Recognize your personal triggers, those things that heighten your depression.

The Mayo Clinic staff has defined the following as major triggers:

Relationships: This trigger can be two-fold. While family tensions and misunderstandings stand out more during the holidays, especially when members spend several days together or attend the traditional gatherings, the absence of those same loved ones during the holidays can magnify feelings of loneliness. The key is finding a balance that works for you.

Finances: When you factor in additional gift, food, and travel expenses incurred during the holidays, your budget can easily be strained to the maximum. If you use credit cards, you'll spend months paying off the additional costs of the holidays. Financial stress can definitely increase feelings of depression, so keep on budget and cross this stressor off your list.

Increased Physical Demands: In an already busy and hectic world, your energy levels are really put to the test by the added shopping, decorating, cooking, and fitting in all the parties and gatherings you're invited to attend throughout the holiday season. The extra exhaustion can lead to the deepening of depression, so plan to include time for regular relaxation time.

You've identified your triggers, so now what?

Specific Tips For Coping With Depression During The Holidays

1. If you're on medication, make sure to take each and every dose as prescribed. If you're seeing a counselor, keep each appointment, or request a couple of extra appointments, as needed.

2. Make a special effort to take good care of your physical well-being by eating healthy, getting some exercise each day, and getting enough rest and sleep. When you cannot sleep, get up and do something peaceful and relaxing rather than lying awake tossing and turning. Avoid too much caffeine, alcohol, or fat and sugar laden holiday goodies. If you're on medication, avoid drinking any alcohol at all, as the combination can be deadly.

3. Define for yourself the true spirit of the holidays, rather than allowing others to define it for you. Give up trying to live up to the expectations of others when they tax you or make no sense to you.

4. Speaking of expectations, keep your own realistic. Embrace the warmth and beauty of the season without thinking of it as a magic cure or vacation from depression. Do what you can, what you love, and what you can afford and let go of the rest, even if what you let go are long-standing traditions.

5. Do make good use of the special holiday music and lighting to help you feel good. Allow yourself some alone time or time with a special person to soak up the atmosphere.

6. Consciously set aside any differences you might have with family or minimize contact with "toxic" people.

7. Pare down your holiday work load, so that the stress won't increase any tendency to become more depressed. Perfection is unattainable, so let go of the extras that don't really matter. You can shop online, for instance, or try something new, such as hosting Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant this year. Tradition is wonderful, but again, keep your expectations of yourself and the holidays realistic. Don't be afraid to initiate new traditions.

8. The best way to help yourself is to help others, so volunteer to deliver Christmas boxes to those less fortunate, or lend a hand at the local soup kitchen. Other ways to help: donate canned goods to food banks, buy a toy to donate to the drives that help children or those in poverty. When you help others have a merrier Christmas, you, too, will have a merrier Christmas.

9. Delegate or ask for help if you're hosting the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year or Kwanzaa celebrations this year. Whatever you celebrate, make it simple, or ask Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe to help with the decorations. Request that each person attending your party bring a snack, beverage, or dish to pass.

10. To cope with the absence of loved ones who've passed on, remember or honor them in ways that are meaningful to you. Offer a special toast in a loved one's memory. Write a poem or essay for them in your journal or on your blog. Place a Christmas bouquet at a loved one's burial site.

11. When it comes to all the parties and gatherings held during the holidays, don't overbook yourself. Attend only the ones that mean the most to you, or leave early if you need to.

12. Resist the temptation to spend more than you can afford. Look for sales online and off, check clearance aisles, or give homemade gifts this year. Pare down your Christmas card list, as well.

Summing It Up

Be aware that you can make the holidays more joyful and less stressful in order to cope with your depression. You're the one in charge, and you can take positive measures that will help keep negative feelings and experiences to a minimum.

WebMD Feature By R. Morgan Griffin, Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Author's Bio: 

Karen Chaffee is a freelance writing and editor living in Michigan, USA.