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The holidays are not the jolliest time of year for people who suffer from depression. Glistening sleigh bells, jazzy carols, and Santa Claus is like fueling loneliness with steroids. Last year, the World Health Organization reported that 280 million people suffer from depression, and 16 million in the U.S., alone. I suspect it’s much higher since some people hide their condition. Almost 1 million people commit suicide yearly. Most of these people are prescribed medication, sometimes with adverse effects and often difficult to stop. Sometimes, medicine is essential, but it should be the last resort instead of the first.

Depression is a painful, debilitating condition that often leads to substance abuse and suicide. Drinking or drugging mask depression momentarily, but substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines (depressant drugs) worsen the lows. The longer the depression lasts, suicidal thoughts creep in. As a teen, I fell victim to such emotions and fixes, resulting in a suicide attempt. I agreed to see a psychiatrist to be discharged from the hospital. He prescribed medication that made me feel worse. Without good direction or therapy, my depression took me on a wayward route toward addiction, resulting in my dropping out of high school to start my own dysfunctional family.

Some people don’t realize they’re depressed; they perceive they have miserable lives. The holidays magnify the differences in how they feel and what they observe in others.

Like any mental health condition, there are warning signs and symptoms. If you feel low, disinterested in life, have a change of appetite, sleep excessively, lack self-care, and have feelings of hopelessness, you are experiencing signs of depression. Sometimes, a crisis triggers these states, and time will heal, sometimes, the blues intensify over time. When these symptoms persist for over a month or two, it’s time to change.

#1 Get Out of the House – Isolation breeds depression, and the best antidote is socialization. Going places isn’t enough. It would be best if you got involved. Engage in a hobby or interest that involves other people. Offer to volunteer and sign up for a project. The holidays are a great time to help others. Thinking about your problems is impossible when you’re helping someone else. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, offer your time and gifts to someone else.

When Mark’s wife died unexpectedly, he found himself sitting alone in his apartment, unable to rejoin life. For months, he didn’t answer his phone and stopped eating. Fortunately, his daughter intervened and insisted he volunteer at her office. Within weeks, Mark felt life flowing through him again, and he found part-time work where he made new friends with whom to share social events.

#2 Replace Toxins with Healthy Food – Bad food and insufficient food create dark thoughts. Certain foods, drugs, and alcohol make depression worse. The brain is a delicate organ and needs proper care for healthy regulation. Sugar, processed foods, and trans-fats are not the same brain fuel as real, whole food that sustains a healthy body and mind. Alcohol and benzodiazepines are depressant drugs and fuel the very condition you seek to alleviate. Treat your body as designed, and your mood will benefit. If you’re unsure, ask yourself, “Would I give this to my five-year-old child?” If not, why give it to yourself unless it’s critical to do so? When you don’t eat, your blood sugar drops and has a negative impact on your emotional state. Eat regular meals.

Jerry started drinking at an early age but managed to keep it under control until she retired. With nothing to do, she moved her start time a little earlier each day. Within a year of retirement, Jerry became so depressed that she went to a psychiatrist who told her she had a chemical imbalance and prescribed her anti-depressants and valium. Within three months, Jerry was suicidal. One night, after heavy drinking, she consumed all the unused Valium. Later, delirious, she called 911 and was admitted to a mental health facility. She received therapy that helped her to understand how alcohol was ruining her life. After joining a recovery group, she was able to replace boredom and depression with a fulfilling life.

#3 Get Help – Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies and unknowingly do things that keep us depressed. When we seek help, we’re opening the door to getting feedback to help us out of the depression maze. Therapy and support groups can help you face your pain and heal. If you have a limited income, there’s plenty of help available with adjustable or subsidized fees. Counseling centers that offer a sliding scale, churches, mental health associations, community mental health centers, and colleges with counseling centers are readily available to the public. You can also do an internet search (free counseling near me) to find local resources. If therapy does not help you to improve, your therapist can refer you to a physician to determine if you need (non-mood altering) medication for short-term use or, in severe cases, long-term use.

Jeffrey had been taught that real men don’t cry. He’d learned to stuff his feelings and plow through life regardless of his feelings. After being wounded in the Iraq war, he was medically discharged from the military. Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, Jeffrey was like a ticking time bomb ready to explode any moment. After he bashed the fourth wall of their home with his fist, his wife threatened to leave if Jeffrey didn’t get help. He reluctantly joined a PTSD support group for vets. The participants shared their common bonds of trauma and gained tools to cope and recover. Jeffrey learned how to release his pain from the war and even from his childhood. Once the heavy burden of old pain was lifted, he was free of old tapes and able to feel comfortable within himself.

#4 Be Willing to Change Your Patterns – There’s an expression, “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” If you wait until you feel better to do something, you’ll stay stuck. If you’re depressed, pushing yourself a little can produce great rewards. Depression can result from self-defeating patterns, and once broken, you can improve. It won’t do you much good to get help and learn new behaviors if you don’t feel you’re worth the effort.

After her divorce, Sally didn’t know what to do with herself. Without the structure provided in a family, she started going to bars to cope with loneliness. She slept late and ate erratically. She began to hook up with strangers who only fueled her pain and emptiness. One morning, after waking up at another stranger’s home, she realized she needed help. She went to a therapist but wouldn’t modify her behavior and follow suggestions. Instead, she sought opinions from different people, keeping her in a state of confusion. Fortunately for Sally, her therapist was able to help Sally work through her resistance and slowly make improvements. Once the momentum took hold and Sally enjoyed feeling better, it reinforced her good choices. In retrospect, she was grateful that her divorce was a wake-up call and a makeover for a new life.

There are lots of ways to get out of a depressive slump. Join an exercise group, start a new hobby, or get a pet. Many people have found taking care of a dog or cat gives them something to love.

You deserve to be happy. Happy people have decided to live in a way that creates happiness. Getting involved in a cause, connecting, and treating your body and mind as a special place to live are tools that can help to enjoy the holidays as a time of sharing and receiving love. It’s impossible to feel full of love and depression simultaneously. And it’s never too late to have a happy adulthood.

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Dr. Donna Marks has been an author, consultant, public speaker, and psychotherapist for over thirty years. She was licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987 and then certified in Addiction, Gestalt Therapy, Hypnosis, Sex Therapy, and Psychoanalysis. She currently has a concierge psychotherapy practice in Palm Beach, Florida.
She has appeared on numerous podcasts and local television. She is the author of two books, Learn Grow Forgive – A Path to Spiritual Success, and Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Solution (revised), and winner of multiple book awards. Her next book, The Healing Moment: Seven Keys to Turn Messes into Miracles, will be released in 2023.

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