One of the worst things about postnatal depression is that it's a period of depression during a time when society expects you to be at your happiest. Similarly, dealing with any depression or mental health issue during a time of general good cheer and celebration can be markedly more challenging than at other times.
The Christmas period, although wonderful, can sometimes be stressful and overwhelming too. Here are my top five tips for reducing symptoms and improving mood.
Don't take on too much
Perfectionism often goes hand in hand with anxiety, so by nature many of us will volunteer to host or organise around the holidays and will be intent on making everything flawless. A little of what you enjoy is a great thing and if offering to bake, volunteering at your child's nursery or festive crafting is your happy place then, by all means, go for it. But if you find yourself saying yes to everything, perhaps just to prove to others (and yourself) that you're okay, but in fact find the added stress increases your anxiety symptoms, then please give yourself permission to say no. Similarly, if someone offers their help, take it (this goes for any other time of year too!)
If you're unwell, and struggling with anxiety or depression, chances are this simply isn't going to be the best festive period you've ever experienced. And that's okay. If you lower your expectations to something more reasonable, given your current state of mind, then chances are it will be a lot easier to handle.
My son's first Christmas was a little rough for me. He was born in the April and I got help quickly so, thankfully, I was over the worst of the anxiety symptoms by December. However, the overwhelming sense of grief and a lingering depression were still very much a part of my day-to-day life. Every special occasion or new stage in his development reminded me of the initial joy and connection that had been robbed from me, so the lead up to his first Christmas brought with it some pain too.
However, thanks to what I've learnt from CBT, I was able to approach the day with a rational, reasonable mind and challenge my negative thoughts into more positive ones. I knew there was no way I would get through the whole day without anxiety so I attempted to accept it and make the best of the time, even with anxiety still creeping at the edges.
Up the self-care
Self-care is so important for our emotional well being, whether suffering from a mental health issue or not. You may feel you need a little more of this than normal when under stress from the festive period, but chances are there will be less time to get it. I try to break self-care down into tiny chunks. It doesn't need to involve a lot of time or money. My husband baths Teddy most nights and that 20 minute window to do something I really enjoy, or just do nothing (in peace!) can work wonders to undo the stresses of the day or relieve rising anxiety.
When surrounded by relatives at Christmas this could be tricky, but even ten minutes before bed with your favourite self-care technique (I love listening to mindfulness recordings in the early morning or late at night) can be enough to have a positive impact.
Focus on the positives and be present
Being both positive and present can be really challenging. Especially if, like me, your default setting is pessimism and worry! But in the latter stages of recovery I have truly found both to be more helpful than anything else.
Instead of dwelling on what anxiety has taken from you, focus on the blessings you do have. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, next week or the New Year do what you can to connect with right now instead. To reiterate, I'm not suggesting this is simple, I work on this every single day I promise you, but practice makes perfect.
Be yourself and surround yourself with the right people
Putting on an act can be so exhausting and mentally draining. Try to be honest with people about how you're feeling at the moment and do your best to surround yourself with supportive and understanding friends and family members. Try to join in where you can, and be as upbeat as possible, but if you're feeling an anxiety attack coming on or feeling particularly low it helps if you are with people who understand and will be able to offer you what you need at that time - whether that be space and alone time or engagement and distraction.
Lastly, remember that all feelings are temporary. This Christmas I feel completely different from how I did in December 2013. I'm excited and happy, and not particularly anxious. Even if this year is a struggle for you, remember there are plenty of wonderful occasions still to come in your future.