Experiencing the Holidays in the Midst of a Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorder

The holidays can be a joyful time of year. However, they can also be a source of great stress, overwhelm and even pain. For moms who are struggling with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, the pressure to share in the happiness and spirit of the holidays can be intense and feel nearly impossible. The following are some perspectives you may not have considered from the point of view of the mom who is battling a PMAD.

First, imagine the thought of bundling up baby and standing in line at a crowded mall to visit Santa when finding the energy to get out of bed is too much. If you haven’t been able to take a shower all week, guess where buying and wrapping gifts falls on your priority list?  Things like decorating, making food, throwing a party, dressing baby in fancy holiday attire or even trying to feel joy may seem too overwhelming. Imagine what it would feel like to not even want to be around your family or baby at all. Picture wishing you could just hide from everything and everyone until it was all over.

Maybe the holidays cause a spike in your anxiety or OCD. Let’s say you find the courage to attend a holiday party with family or friends. You exhaust yourself pretending to be social; meanwhile, your mind is thwarting intrusive thoughts and you’re ready to jump out of your skin. Your head is filled with questions like, “What if they knew the thoughts I was having about hurting my baby?” “What if they knew I wish I never became a mother?” “What if they knew I thought my family would be better off without me?”

Or, you may be the mom who feels filled with rage. You can’t stand the lines in every store or the added clutter around the house. You fear you might lose it if you hear “Jingle Bells” one more time. And irritated doesn’t even begin to describe how it makes you feel to see others enjoying this time of year. You just wish everyone would just leave you alone.

Perhaps the holidays are difficult because painful memories begin to resurface. Maybe your depression was too heavy last year and you feel you missed out on a special time in your baby’s life. You may be grieving the holidays you wanted to have but didn’t because of your illness. Or, it’s possible that you experienced trauma around the holidays and even just seeing the holiday lights around the neighborhood brings you back to that awful time and place.

Now, imagine the guilt and shame you might feel for not being the mom who is decorating cookies, singing carols or staging the perfect holiday card. Imagine how easy it would be to feel some jealousy or resentment towards the moms who seem to skate effortlessly through the holiday season. It’s hard for the mom fighting a PMAD not to wonder “why me?” It’s no wonder she thinks something must be wrong with her when she sees such happiness in the hearts of those around her and she feels nothing at all.

But, have hope. There are some things this mom can do to help cope with this time of year. Here are some basic tips:

  • Set realistic expectations with yourself and others. Know where you are in your recovery journey and respect what you are capable of right now. The lights might not get up this year and you might still be wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve. That’s okay. If attending every holiday party you were invited to is too overwhelming, pick one or two. People will understand.
  • Learn when to say “no.” This also means, asking for help when you need it. Maybe it’s as simple as requesting family members bring a dish to pass; or, it might mean asking for some additional sessions with a therapist.
  • Be mindful. Try to accept whatever feelings, emotions or thoughts come to the surface and try your best to sit with them. They will pass if you let them.
  • Practice good self-care. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it can be difficult to find a moment to yourself but carving out this time is absolutely necessary in order to preserve your mental health. Take a bubble bath and listen to your favorite holiday music or treat yourself to a gingerbread latte at your favorite coffee shop.

So, this holiday season, give yourself permission to be wherever you are in your journey. The holidays are a difficult time for many of us so please trust me when I say that you are not alone. Be kind and gentle to yourself. It won’t always be this hard and this darkness is not forever. My hope is that a year from now, you will have found joy again and will be able to enter the holiday season with the happiness and excitement you once knew so well.

-Written by Alexis Bruce

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