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Aren't the holidays supposed to be joyful? And not just Christmas and New Year's, but birthdays and the 4th of July are supposed to be happy times too. Well, they aren't for everyone, so if you're saying, "I'm depressed - What do I do?" this time of the year, then you're far from alone.
It's not unusual at all for people to feel down during the holidays, and even have the thought that "maybe I'm depressed." So, if that’s you, you’re not alone.
Despite the opportunities to be around others (family, friends, coworkers) celebrating, holidays can be some of the loneliest times of the year for many of us. This is one of the biggest reasons some people say, "I hate the holidays."
And sadly, depression at this time of year, or depression that has gone untreated at any time of year, can lead to problems with addictions and other forms of self-medication, or ways to escape or avoid others and their joy.
Feeling Depressed Is Common
If you're already not feeling good about something in your life, then this time of year can make those feelings even worse.
When everyone else looks so happy and you're not, or others expect you to be happy and you're not, it only compounds the despair you're feeling and can make you feel even more down.
This can be especially true for people who are newly separated or divorced. Starting a new stage in life means huge change and adjustment, and the holidays can make it even more difficult.
This time of year can be particularly miserable if you're thinking about ending a relationship but haven't done it yet, or if you want to be with someone else but aren't.
Of course, the holidays aren’t the only time people feel down. Depression, especially in the recent years, is at record levels. And although there are many external factors that can contribute to feeling depressed, there are also certain things within our control that play a role.
3 Ways We Make Ourselves Depressed
So, if I'm depressed, what can I do about it?
Well, start by considering your own behavior. There are habits many of us have that don't help. Here are 3 of them to think about how much you may do:
1. Focusing on what you don't have. This can be a tough at certain times of the year, like at Christmas or our birthday, when we typically get asked what we want.
This question may lead many of us to think about things that can’t be wrapped in pretty paper and given as a gift. The honest answer of what we truly want can be a painful one to say out loud. For instance,
- A guy I am counseling right now wants more than anything to have his family back
- A women in counseling with me wants some honest answers about why her husband no longer loves her
- Another person wants to be in a relationship with someone who really loves them. Not someone who just says it now and then, but who shows it every day.
Unfortunately, none of these are things that be offered as a gift, but focusing on these painful desires to the exclusion of almost everything else can lead to depression.
It's really easy to focus on what we want, but don't have. It doesn't matter if it's a different job, happier relationship, where we are in life. When we make our focus what we don't have, we fuel our discontent and bring ourselves down.
Instead, try putting your focus on being grateful for what you do have, not unhappy about what you don't. This can be hard, but it's also doable.
2. Comparing your life to the lives of others. This is particularly hard not to do around Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially if you don't have the relationship or family life that you want.
At this time of year, it can seem like everyone else is happy but me, everyone else is in a loving relationship but me, or that everyone else has family to spend time with but me.
Comparing ourselves to others is not good for us because it only serves to highlight what others have that you want and creates a false impression of someone else’s reality.
We want to believe other people are as happy as they appear or we think they are, but no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors.
So, if you’re thinking, "I'm depressed. What can I do about it?" one thing to do is to stop comparing your life to others.
3. Expectations are one of the biggest traps for feeling depressed. Take a look at your expectations. Unrealistic, impractical, or impossible expectations can cause us to feel down, depressed, and hopeless.
- “She should take my breath away” (after being married 11 years and having 3 kids).
- “I should have been married by the time I was 30.”
- “I can make my husband love me like I want him to if I just try hard enough.”
Think for a minute about how the media, social media, and advertising encourages, and even promotes, these 3 habits:
- Focusing on what we don't have
- Comparing what we have to what others' have
- Expectations that fuel the desire for more than we have
Getting us to do this is how they get readers, viewers, and customers. But it only creates unhappiness for us.
If You're Depressed
Depression is a serious condition and shouldn’t be taken lightly or allowed to persist. If you’re depressed, however, it can feel difficult if not impossible to find a way out of it.
Unfortunately, depression doesn’t go away on it’s own. It requires effort and very often assistance. Forcing yourself to be around people you trust and confide in is necessary.
Feeling down has a lot to do with our thinking and the choices we make. If you say, "I'm depressed," then following that by asking, "what can I do about it?" is a good place to start.
Make a list of some of the possible changes you can make based on what we've discussed. In that list you should include the family and friends that can be a support network.
The good news is that you don’t have to stay depressed, you can make changes in how you’re thinking that get you back to a more positive mental state. One of your first acts should be considering the points above and how they might apply to you.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published December 15, 2015 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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