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Every year, I tell myself the holidays are going to be different. 

This year the girls and I are going to decorate the entire house. This year I’m going to be extra creative with Elf on the Shelf. This year we’re going to start new holiday traditions and carry on the ones I hold near and dear from my childhood. But this year, and every year, it’s always easier said than done. I don’t care what anyone says. Living with mental health issues during the holiday is so hard.

The girls can’t wait to go shopping for family and friends. They want to spend hours exploring the mall with its lit-up storefronts and nonstop loop of holiday music. And, honestly, I get it. They’ve been waiting for the opportunity to wholeheartedly embrace everything holly-jolly about this time for the past two years while the world was kind of a mess. But not only am I not in a festive mood, I just don’t have the energy to add even more things to my to-do list. 

It’s easy to get bogged down by the expectation that your mental health magically gets better over the holidays. In all honesty, it’s really overwhelming and, quite frankly, exhausting. Yes, I want to make each and every celebration special for my kids, but wanting to do that and actually doing it are worlds apart.

One of the hardest things about my depression is that it’s not obvious to everyone around me. I still volunteer in the classroom, and I still decorate the tree. The sugar cookies get baked, and the stockings get hung. I function. But not at full speed, and definitely not with effortless joy. 

Having high-functioning depression leaves me stuck somewhere between trying to cram as much holiday magic into December as I can, and bawling my eyes out while I wrap presents. Part of it is because I feel overwhelmed. But another part comes with feeling so frustrated that I can’t just enjoy things like everybody else seems to.

Oh, and the guilt. How could I forget? If it wasn’t hard enough to fake the holly jolly-ness of the season for everyone to see, the overwhelming guilt that comes with not making everything a perfect winter wonderland for my littles … absolutely engulfs me. 

If I’m being honest, I’d do just about anything to pull myself out of this funk. But if you’ve ever lived with depression or any mental health issues, you know that’s not how it works. I mean, if it was, do you think anyone would choose to struggle this way?

If you feel like I do this holiday season, don’t despair, Mama. You can still enjoy the holidays even when it feels impossible to get into the Christmas mood. 

Amy DeBlase LMHC, a therapist with Let’s Talk Psychological Wellness, agrees that simply wrangling yourself out of your depression probably shouldn’t be your go-to plan.

“We can’t truly wrangle ourselves out of depression, especially during a particularly challenging time like the holiday season,” Amy says. Instead, she shares other suggestions to help you get through. “Try prioritizing self-care and utilizing supports like therapists, loved ones, or helplines. And if you’re looking for something you can do internally, try developing a mantra focused on acceptance of the hard feelings you’re feeling, while also trying to find joy in small moments.” 

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but I don’t have time to take a self-care soak in the bath every day I feel down. And going to get a massage or investing in some new skincare just isn’t in the budget right now — hello, have you missed that it’s almost Christmas? The great news, though, is that self-care doesn’t have to involve spending money. And it also doesn’t have to take up large blocks of time during your day. Practicing self-care can be done in the smallest ways. Take a few moments to journal (maybe sneak in that mantra) or simply ask for some help. Yes, you’re Wonder Woman … but that doesn’t mean you have to do all of it alone. Remember, you aren’t failing when the task you set out to achieve is impossible for one person to do.

But what if all the self-care in the world doesn’t fix things? Truthfully, sometimes I’m afraid that if I let myself feel too sad, everything will just fall to pieces. (Hence, weeping while wrapping gifts.) But here’s the thing: Believe it or not, things won’t totally fall apart. Taking time to process your feelings and making space for the less-than-holly-jolly time won’t destroy anything. Keeping your feelings all bottled up with no healthy outlet, on the other hand, definitely doesn’t do you any favors. 

So even though this is the season of cheer and non-stop errands and events, give yourself permission to slow down. Trying to do it all, all the time, with perfection in mind is a recipe for disaster, especially when you’re also balancing your mental health. Being a parent living with depression during the holiday season can indeed be a challenge, but it doesn’t make you any less. It doesn’t mean your family’s Christmas celebration will shine any less brightly, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing enough.

The best gift you can give your kiddos this holiday season is a mom who takes care of herself. A mom who is present. And a mom who enjoys this time with their family, even when it isn’t picture-perfect. Teaching your kids while they’re young to prioritize themselves and their emotional, mental, and physical well-being is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

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