The good things about holidays include extended family, lots of rich food/drinks, and a break from the routine. The bad news is that they also include extended family, lots of rich food/drinks, and a break from the routine. With a lot of everything going on, many of us, especially new parents, may be more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. Here are my top tips to prevent stress and depression during the holidays and stay balanced.
1. Take time to check in with yourself.
Amidst the chaos of full houses and family gatherings, the “noise” can make it hard to hear your own needs and feelings. Find an excuse to take 15 minutes by yourself. Practice whatever helps you clear your mind, such as deep breaths, stretching and yoga, a mindfulness meditation, a bubble bath, music, or a walk outside. With extra family around, you may have extra childcare and unprecedented opportunities for a quick break alone.
2. Take time alone with your baby.
New babies are very popular at family gatherings. Take some time to be “selfish” with your baby and be alone, just the two of you, or with just your nuclear family. Holiday travel and large gatherings can be very overwhelming to little ones. And an unsettled baby makes for an unsettled parent. Breastfeeding moms and babies may find it especially important to find a quiet space alone and to not let too much time go by between feedings. Skipping feedings and holiday stress can cause a decrease in milk supply, which only leads to more stress.
3. Try to keep some of your routines.
While some of our schedule goes out the window during the holidays, keeping some familiar patterns in the day will help you as well as your little one. Daily walks, healthy snacks, naps and quiet time are especially important to keep up.
4. Keep your baby close.
Remember that YOU are your baby’s comfort zone. You are your baby’s home. Whether traveling through airports or in a loud family party, your baby will be happiest while you or your partner is wearing him in a baby carrier. If sleeping in a strange environment, the closer she is to you, the more relaxed she will be and the more sleep you will all get.
5. Be strong in your boundaries with family.
Say “no” when it is important. Everyone has an opinion of how to care for a baby. You, as the parent, get to decide. Listen to your inner voice and instincts. In addition, you may find old family dynamics are stressful. Many times when we return home to extended family, old, unhealthy patterns can reemerge. If there are no tense or complicated issues at all in your family, congrats, you are lucky. If they are, congrats, your family is normal!
6. Be flexible in your expectations of family.
Try to accept family members and old friends as they are. Expect that they are going to have opinions with which you disagree. Know that you don’t have to respond to, argue with or follow their advice. Let everything that bothers you roll off like water on a ducks back. Decide if it is a priority to hash everything out, or if you would rather stick to neutral topics.
7. Set aside differences.
Pick your battles. Fundamental differences are not going to be resolved during one visit. Understand others may be feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too. Try to listen for their best intents. Focus on what you have in common and enjoyable.
8. Acknowledge sad feelings.
If you have had a recent loss or trauma, or if it near the anniversary of the death of a loved one, realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. Don’t force yourself to be happy all the time if you are not.
9. Put your oxygen masks on first.
When traveling on a plane with a small child or someone needing your assistance, the advice is to put your oxygen mask on first. Our instinct is to take care of our needs only after everyone else has been tended to. But if we pass out from lack of oxygen, how will we be able to help them? Make it a priority to take care of yourself. For moms, I call this “mothering the mother.” Doing so allows us to better take care of those that need us.
10. Reach out.
If you feel lonely or sad, talk with someone. If you do not feel your family understands, reach out to your “mama tribe,” or to friends who do. If you are having serious distress or thoughts of suicide, call a hotline, such as 800-273-TALK (8255) in the US or Canada.
11. Seek help.
If you have tried many of these strategies, and are still feeing sad or blue, or unable to enjoy the aspects of the holidays that you usually enjoy, you may want to consult with a professional. If you are feeling this way more often than not, and if it has lasted more than two weeks, a psychotherapist or doctor may be able to help. In my private practice in San Diego, I help clients develop a custom plan for soothing self-care and “mothering the mother.” This page on Postpartum Progress, lists providers in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, who specialize in mental health for pregnant and postpartum women.
Rejoice in your baby’s first holiday. Get excited in experiencing the holidays through a small child’s eyes. Celebrate reuniting with loved ones and seeing them with your babies. Focus on the joy and light. Know that the darkness passes. For some (see #11), professional help can speed up the process, but remember it gets better. Enjoy the fun in the meantime.