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12/18/2018 15:33 EST | Updated 12/18/2018 15:41 EST

How To Survive The Holidays With Depression

The oppressive darkness combined with expecting peace inside adds up to a serious inner challenge.

In a time of year known for a combo platter of unrelenting stress and unrestricted joy, it's no surprise people suffering from depression may struggle. It certainly can be tough for me — the oppressive darkness outside combined with the expectation for peace inside adds up to a serious inner challenge.

Here's how I've survived, and even enjoyed, the holidays while living with depression.

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Giving thanks where I could

I like to take about 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on what has happened, and the things for which I'm grateful. The list includes everything, big and small: from the thoughtful gift I wasn't expecting to the simple observation that a friend seemed happy to see me. Depending on where I'm at in my depression, those seemingly tiny details can be vital reminders I hold a valuable place in the world.

When I'm not able to take that much time, I still try to fit in what I can, even if it's just a phone reminder at some point in the day to pause and reflect on what I can be grateful for in that moment.

One thing I've learned is that any gratitude practice where I write things down is much more effective than a mental list. If it's all in my head, I'm going to get distracted, lose track and have no sense of completion when it's all over. Writing it down in one way or another provides concrete evidence of goodness that's harder to ignore or forget.

Avoiding the instant yes

My tendency as a depressed person is to be as busy as possible so that I never have to be alone with my own thoughts. That busyness leads to exhaustion, which only serves to aggravate the nasty voices in my head that I was trying to outrun in the first place.

It's always helpful to avoid social media.

Telling myself I'm going to say no to things is too overwhelming, but what I can do is avoid instantly saying yes, buying myself a little time before I add something new to my calendar. I actually practice saying, "I'll have to check on a few things before I can get back to you," and do my best to employ it for every invitation or request that comes in.

If you have the opposite problem, where your depression leads you to hide away from everyone and everything, consider avoiding the instant no instead.

Reducing social media

It's always helpful to avoid social media, and I find the inherent comparison and insecurity that comes from seeing everyone else's curated lives can hit harder on "big days" such as Christmas or New Year's Eve.

It's a double-edged sword: either I see all the amazing things everyone else is doing and feel jealous/insignificant/left out, or I see that no one else is really posting and assume they must be too busy having incredible quality time with their families while I'm the unengaged loser scrolling Instagram. Either way, it's bad news.

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Woman using smart phone, drinking coffee in cafe

The important thing here has been finding another "filler" activity for when I've got downtime or need to escape for a bit. Instead of scrolling through social media feeds, I've found a few articles I'd like to read, or a new webcomic with a lot of archives to make my way through. An actual book or the giant Christmas crossword puzzle can work wonders as well.

Notice when I'm comparing

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, supposedly, "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Comparison rears its ugly head easily enough during regular life, and all the more so during times like the holidays that are "supposed" to be a certain way — joyful, merry, beautiful, meaningful, etc. Plus, giving and receiving gifts is a great way to compare yourself to others: how genuine was their reaction to my gift? Do they secretly hate it (and me by extension)? Do they seem happier with a different gift? What do the gifts they gave me say? Do they really know me and like me?

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Stopping the comparison train all together is tough, and this might not be the best time to launch that particular effort, but I do find that simply being more mindful of the fact that I'm doing it takes the edge off. Whether I'm comparing to someone who is right in front of me, on social media or an imagined perfect person in my head, it can be useful to simply note that it's happening. It's also not a bad idea to remind myself that I don't know the inner struggles or challenges behind the perfect exterior I'm seeing, or imagining.

My depression wants me to believe that I'm alone, dysfunctional, and essentially unlovable. It can be hard to live with those voices during any season, let alone one that's focused on joyful togetherness. These little adjustments help ground me in reality, making it a little easier to see the lies my depression tells me for what they are and enjoy the good the holiday season has to offer.

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