Secret Santas and ugly sweater parties might seem like the highlight of the year, but when you’re suffering from depression, the holiday season can be anything but merry and bright – particularly if you’re a teen. For adolescents, depression is on the rise. In fact, according to a 2016 study from the Journal of Pediatrics, the prevalence of teens reporting a major depressive episode during the prior year rose from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.5 percent in 2014. That’s more than one in 10 teens who have felt sad, lonely, isolated and hopeless – just in the last 12 months.
So while festive carols and family gatherings might sound like the perfect cure for depression, the opposite can be the case. Teens dealing with family dysfunction or those without supportive social circle can feel even more isolated this time of year – particularly as the rest of the world appears to be sharing the delights of the season. If you’re a teen battling depression, remember that this is an important time of year to take extra care of yourself – here’s how.
Confront the feelingsDenial is a common – and natural – way to deal with depression. Rather than listening to negative or scary thoughts, you distract yourself and tune them out entirely. This might work in the short-term, but running from these feelings can prolong and exacerbate your depression. It’s important to talk about your feelings – either with a good friend or (preferably) a trusted professional. If you’re not ready to talk, take this time to make a habit of writing your feelings in a journal each night. Usually, once you confront these feelings, they lose a bit of their power over you.
Find connectionsSinging carols by the fire might not be your cup of cocoa, but spending time with others your age – and finding real connections and commonalities with them, can help you eradicate those feelings of loneliness and isolation. While the holidays can make you feel extra lonely, it’s actually the perfect time of year to find connections with others, as there are always opportunities to socialize and celebrate.
Shun the goodiesSugarplums and candy canes might be some of the perks of the season, but be careful about the junk you’re consuming. Believe it or not, what you eat not only affects how you feel physically on a daily basis, but also how you feel mentally and emotionally. Have a slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner and indulge in cocoa and sugar cookies at your family Christmas party, but stick to healthy, whole foods – including lots of lean meats and vegetables – on a daily basis.
Get outsideThe weather this time of year tends to be frightful, but don’t let it keep you from some heart-pumping outdoor activities, which have been scientifically proven to elevate your mood. Take a brisk walk outside, head to the ski hill with friends or find a good, old-fashioned ice skating rink. Aim to be active – preferably outdoors – at least once a day.
For more information on teen depression, visit www.thegriefgirl.com.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
Stuffed turkeys and yuletide carols might be the stuff of holiday cheer, but when you’re grieving, twinkling lights and festive dishes could simply be salt on your open wounds. The holidays – with their ubiquitous scents, sounds, sights and feelings – likely reminds you of a happier time, or simply a time spent with someone you loved who is gone. Your “ghosts” of Christmases, Thanksgivings, New Years’ or Hanukahs past might still be haunting you this holiday season. Here’s what you can do to get through it.
You’ve heard the old adage that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. If you’re dreading the holiday season, the last thing you want to do is make plans for it. But guess what? Avoiding the holidays – like avoiding your grief – will only make it worse. Plan where you’ll be and who you’ll be with for any major holidays you celebrate. Make sure to choose company that understands what you’re going through and can act as a support system for you. If other family members are grieving, talk about how each family member feels comfortable celebrating. What is comforting for one might be painful for another, so be candid with your feelings.
Take care of yourself first
Regardless of what you’re going through, the holiday season can be draining. But when you’re grieving, the stress of family plans, work obligations, gift lists and party planning can seem insurmountable. During this time, give yourself the greatest gift you can: self-care. Practice healthy nutrition, good sleep habits and engage in some quiet relaxation or meditation on a daily basis. Don’t feel guilty for skipping out on your office holiday party in order to relax and recharge. Only you know how to best care for yourself, so if that involves surrounding yourself with family and friends, do it. If it means quiet time alone, that’s okay too.
Ask for help
If you’re like most people, “help” is a four-letter word you try to avoid. But when you’re grieving, you need support. Sadly, after a death, even though your friends and family want to help, they simply don’t know how. That’s where you come in. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and to do so specifically. If you need someone to simply give you a call every day to lift your spirits, ASK! Believe me, people want to help; they just need you to tell them how to do so effectively.
Do some good
Grieving has a way of turning our feelings inward. That’s only natural, as you are forced to confront your new reality of a life without a person or relationship you valued. But one of the best ways for you to get the focus off your grief is to simply lend a helping hand. Fortunately, charitable opportunities abound this time of the year, so find a good cause and get involved. Whether you’re simply dropping change in a collection jar or organizing a food drive from scratch, serving others is both comforting and healing throughout the grieving process.
Remember that you’re unique
Unless you live in a Hallmark original movie, holidays are rarely perfect – for anyone, let alone someone suffering through a loss. Be careful not to compare your holiday celebrations with those of a friend, family member or acquaintance (which likely looks more picture-perfect on social media than it was in reality). Likewise, don’t feel pressure to grieve in a certain way, either. There’s no guilt in enjoying a holiday gathering or event, even if your loss is recent.
Get some help
Grief knows no season, but it can certainly be accentuated by memories of a certain time of year. If you need a little extra help through the holiday season, a professional grief counselor might be your best resource. I know how hard this time of year can be for my clients, and I have specific exercises and habits to help make it more manageable (or even enjoyable). For more information on grief counseling, visit thegriefgirl.com.
by Kristi Hugstad