The holiday season is not just a time for traditional festivities, merry making, good will and celebrating with loved ones. For some, it's the loneliest time of the year. For others, sadness of missing a loved one or recovering from a life-changing trauma tinges the season. Many fall into despair as self-reflection takes hold, measuring the year's past accomplishment and failures. And then there are those who begin a downward spiral into the depths of clinical depression.
Here are tips that can keep you strong and grounded whether you're flying solo for the holidays or connected to others.
•Combat loneliness. To offset social isolation, take advantage of free holiday activities. Participate in community events like tree or menorah lightings, free concerts, food or clothing drives, holiday banquets or community brunches.
•Be proactive. Don't wait to be invited somewhere. Invite someone over.
•Create new rituals. If old holiday traditions are no longer possible to do, find new ways to celebrate the season. Invent new rituals, traditions or remembrances.
•Take Care. Taking care of "you" during the holiday season helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with sadness and stress. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Eat well and make sure you get enough healthy, restful sleep.
•Solidify bonds. Use the holidays as a time to reconnect with friends and family and strengthen your support network.
•Be realistic. Unrealistic expectations are the single biggest cause of holiday depression. Unrealistic hopes that everything will be perfect, and everyone will be happy leads to disappointment, frustration and can trigger a depressive relapse.
•Be aware. Family conflicts can resurface during the holiday season. Try to avoid falling into old behavioral patterns with others. Be creative with seating or invite people to different occasions at different times. If necessary, avoid friction altogether by taking yourself out of the social equation with your own holiday celebration.
•Don't overschedule yourself. Most of our lives are already overscheduled, even before adding in holiday visits, fath-based events, and travel. Make plans carefully in advance and don't be afraid to say "no" if you feel burdened.
•Don't confuse "stuff" with "love". Make a budget and stick to it. Most of all, remember to give the gift of time to others. Long after the $100 video games are forgotten, kids will remember sledding down hills with you.
•Plan your time well. Don't put off shopping for food and presents. Feelings of helpless, guilt and hopelessness can give way when things are left to the last minute.
•Focus. Remember to focus on what you can control, not what's beyond your control. And don't be afraid to delegate what you might need help with.
Dr. Deborah Serani is a psychologist, professor and author of several award-winning books on depression.