Coping With Grief and Depression During Holidays

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Coping With Grief and Depression During Holidays

As Easter approaches, residents of the Nashville, TN area continue to process and mourn the events that occurred last week at Covenant School, less than 10 miles from the For Others office. Several of our staff members have friends and family close to the tragedy. Our hearts break for and with them, as do millions around the nation. Of course, this is only one example of the grief and depression that many people may be facing at the moment. Loss, health issues, family separation, loneliness, and trauma affect millions of people across the nation and around the world.

While holidays are a time for joy, celebration, and togetherness, proximity to the “holiday spirit” can exacerbate the effects of grief and depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that “64% of people with mental illness [including depression] report holidays make their conditions worse.” To deal with grief and depression in a healthy way, it’s a good idea to look at where holiday depression can stem from and how to address those feelings with effective coping strategies.

Causes of Holiday Grief and Depression

Known as “holiday depression syndrome” or the “holiday blues,” depression and other mental illnesses often worsen during the holiday season. Many people report feeling sad or otherwise stressed during the chaos of celebrations. Reasons for these feelings include:

  • Social isolation: People isolated from friends and/or family, as well as people who’ve experienced significant changes in their social circles, may experience increased loneliness during the holidays. For example, children dealing with the trauma of being placed in foster care may be prone to depression during the holidays as they miss family or feel sad because of missed traditions or unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Family dynamics: Family drama can also be a stressor for many people. Unhealthy relationships, troubled history with family members, and forced interaction between people can all contribute to stressful, high-tension environments. Outbursts—and the anticipation of them—can heighten anxiety and feelings of dread.
  • Loss: Those experiencing grief over the holidays can have an especially difficult time as they recall past holidays with loved ones who are lost. People dealing with a loss during or around a celebratory time of the year can be particularly prone to holiday depression.
  • Increased stress: Stress is a known aggravating factor for mental illness, and unfortunately can often accompany holiday gatherings and events. Cooking, gift shopping, parties, and more can all be sources of stress.
  • Seasonal changes: People with major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern are affected by seasonal changes, normally most intense during the winter months.

Coping Strategies for Grief and Depression

For those coping with grief during the holidays or otherwise battling depression, trauma, or anxiety, some practices can help support mental and emotional health over Easter weekend. Experts recommend:

  • Remembering a loved one: Whether they’ve moved or passed away, acknowledging the space where a person used to be gives you room to feel their absence. It may sound counterintuitive, but remembering the loss can be a positive experience in the midst of grief.
  • Setting boundaries: During times of emotional vulnerability or family conflict, you may not have the energy, resources, or desire to participate in all the party planning you might normally do. It’s okay to set healthy boundaries, and it’s okay to let others know your limits.
  • Staying connected: As tempting as it is to withdraw in seasons of depression or grief, the long-term effects of isolation only worsen them. If you need space to process emotions in private, schedule yourself an hour of uninterrupted time, and at the end, continue with your daily routine or reach out to a friend. Similarly, if you find yourself alone during the holidays, remember to connect with loved ones. A phone call can lessen feelings of loneliness and disconnect even if you live far apart.
  • Participating in charity work: You may not be able to influence the source of your grief or depression, but there is still good in the world, and you can make some of that good happen. Volunteering is also a great way to combat loneliness and meet others who are passionate about the same causes.
  • Limiting social media use: When a big tragedy such as Covenant occurs, the media covers the story for weeks, if not years. It’s not wrong to be informed, but each time you read a new article or share a new video, you add a greater burden of PTSD onto yourself and/or your social media followers. Whether it’s a national or personal event, it’s important to limit your exposure to social media in order to prevent trauma from building on itself over and over.
  • Seeking support and help: While the holidays can bring their own trials and tribulations, it’s important to remember that you are never truly alone. Help and support are always available to you. If you need to speak with someone, we encourage you to reach out to a trusted family member or friend. You are not a burden to them.

From all of us at For Others, we wish you a safe and healthy Easter wherever you are.

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