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6 Ways to Cope with the Holidays when you Have Postpartum Depression

All is calm… All is bright… but not for everyone. 

If you just had a baby then your home is definitely not calm, there is probably a lot of crying and a lot of sleepless nights happening in your house.  And if you are struggling or recovering from postpartum depression or anxiety then this holiday season most likely doesn’t feel quite bright.

While the holiday season for many people brings joy, comfort and togetherness, for many (especially new parents) this time of year can be filled with its own set of unique challenges and expectations.  

The increased social expectations and the pressures of the holidays to be “festive” or “merry” can be incredibly overwhelming for parents struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety.  1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men will struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety, so the most important thing to remember this holiday season, if this is something you are facing, is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  

Most women will experience some form of ‘Baby Blues’ following the birth of their child.  This may include bouts of intense emotions, mood swings, uncontrollable crying, and difficulty sleeping.  Baby Blues is directly related to hormonal changes that occur for women following birth and will dissipate after 2 weeks postpartum. 

If you have lingering symptoms following that 2 week period you may be struggling with a postpartum mood disorder.  For men, the symptoms of postpartum depression will manifest beyond the 2 weeks as well and will look similar to the symptoms you would see in women.

Some symptoms that are often associated with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety are:

-intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and/or guilt

-blaming self when things go wrong

-struggling to find joy in activities that were previously enjoyable

-increased irritability

-feeling so anxious or worried you are unable to calm yourself down

-difficulty concentrating 

-lack of energy

-big changes in appetite that result in eating much more or less than usual and/or quick or drastic changes in weight 

-difficulty sleeping

-thoughts of suicide or that your family would be better off without you***

***If you are feeling this way reach out immediately to your health care provider or reach out for professional help and support.  Resources are linked at the bottom of this article.  

Many new parents would be able to say that they have experienced some of the above symptoms (especially difficulty sleeping!), but it is important to note and recognize when these become impactful to your functioning and many parents will experience many additional stressors that intensify some of the above symptoms during the holidays.  

Here are some strategies to help you through the holidays if you or a family member has postpartum depression or anxiety:

1. Reflect and evaluate where the pressure is coming from.

The pressure during the holidays to bake all the things, decorate all the things, buy and wrap all the things and do all the things perfectly can set us up with unrealistic expectations.  Where are these expectations coming from?  

If we take a closer look, those expectations and thoughts about “all the things” are actually within our realm of control.  

First, press pause!  

If we take minute to consider the pressure we place on ourselves we may be able to let some of it go.  If you think that the pressure is coming from a partner or extended family, talk to them about it.  You may find that the expectations they have for you is much less than you are placing on yourself.

2. Release the pressure.

Do you work yourself up thinking or worrying about what gift to get or planning the dinner or perfect holiday party?  

Someone once told me that it is ok to plan an event, but don’t plan the outcome.  

If you project out and expect things to go a certain way or build up an expectation of how it should or shouldn’t be, then you are setting yourself up for feeling anxiety and stress.  

So go ahead and plan the holiday dinner, but if you burn the dinner, release the pressure or expectation you set for yourself.  Order take-out or defrost something you have in the freezer.  Remember the expectations others have of you is probably less than what you’ve imagined.  

If pressure, obligation or perfectionism get triggered, we wrote some supportive posts here: The Cost of Perfectionism and 3 Ways to Create Trust and Connection Without Being Perfect.

3.  Set Boundaries and Prioritize Yourself.

Are there several holiday parties or events you said you would attend?  

Are you planning to visit multiple family members and need to travel long distances to see them all?  

Are you volunteering, cooking, baking… are you over extending yourself to do it all?  

Try setting more realistic expectations for yourself this year!  You had a baby and you’re already struggling with anxiety or depression… If something is overwhelming, it is ok to prioritize yourself and to say no.  If it is something that you really want to do, but it still feels overwhelming, ask for help.  

Try not to over extend yourself and give yourself time to acknowledge what you need.

4.  Allow yourself to feel your feelings.

Although this is supposed to be a joyful time of year, the holidays can also stir up feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety and grief.  It is ok to feel all these feelings.  

Don’t push the feelings away or tell yourself that you “shouldn’t” feel this way during the holidays, because all that does is create a sense of guilt for feeling this way.  

Acknowledge and accept that this year feels different and you may need to practice more coping skills and practice more self-care to navigate these feelings this year.  

5.  Self Care, Self Care, Self Care.

While it may not be realistic or possible to take a full day to yourself or even a full hour to yourself, try to make space to have time to re-charge your emotional battery and do something enjoyable (or something you used to find enjoyable pre-baby).  

Perhaps that’s as simple as sitting down for a moment to drink your coffee or taking relaxing bath or shower, whatever it may be, be sure you are making time to care for yourself so that your battery isn’t depleted. 

Even better if you can take a walk outdoors!  Studies have shown even walking outside for 15 minutes a day can reduce symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.

6.  Talk to Someone.  Seek Help.

Give yourself some grace and time to know that this is an especially challenging time in your life.  Not only are you adjusting navigating the holidays with your baby, but you may also be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety which makes this time of year more challenging.  

Family and friends will not know what is going on with you unless you tell them!  Don’t be afraid to share what you are feeling and express to them that you need help.  

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional to talk about what’s coming up for you.  

YOU ARE NOT ALONE and we are here to help.  Contact us.

An additional resource that may help is connecting with other parents struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety:

www.postpartum.net

PSI helpline 1-800-944-4773

Call us here or talk to one of our therapists at One Heart Counseling Center:

www.oneheartcounseling.com

If you are having suicidal thoughts contact: 1-800-273-8255

Remember that this is a season in your life that while challenging, is temporary.  

You will get through this holiday and no matter how or what you decide to do to manage this new holiday season as a parent, know you are doing the best that you can do.  

You are parenting in the best way you can and that is good enough!  And remember that you are not alone.

This article was written by Chelsea Derossi M.A., LMFT, ATR.  Chelsea currently works at One Heart Counseling Center with parents in all stages of parenting!  She has completed specialized training with Postpartum Support International and is working toward licensure as a PMH-C (perinatal mental health counselor).  

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