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Five Tips for Coping with Depression over the Holidays (appeared in Huffington Post)

While everyone seems to be in a "ho, ho, ho!" mood, are you feeling more like "Bah, Humbug!" during this holiday season? It could be a reaction to the myriad of stressors we all suffer from during this time of year, but the holidays are also a time when you should be alert to signs of a bonafide, clinical depression in yourself or a loved one.

The pain of depression can be even more acute when everyone else seems to be in a great mood, enjoying the sparkle and excitement of the season. Meanwhile, some of us feel like hiding under the covers to escape the repetitive drumbeat of fear, negativity, hopelessness, and generalized anxiety pulsing through our minds.

Here are a few ways to help you cope when you're feeling down and drained when everybody else seems to be feeling upbeat and energized.

1. Go see your doctor: This is your first line of defense. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and often requires medical intervention to be alleviated. Depression has nothing to do with whether or not you are a strong person. Overcoming clinical depression on your own is difficult and highly unlikely. Depression is one of the most easily treated illnesses but one of the most neglected - 80% to 90% experience relief by utilizing antidepressants. Don't fool around with it: a clinical depression is no laughing matter - in fact, it can be a fatal disease, if not addressed with the help of medical care, friends, family, and community.

2. Cut yourself some slack: Many depressives are also perfectionists who make stringent demands on themselves. People with depression tend to suffer from low self-esteem and more than a good helping of self-doubt. Many of us believe we have to be perfect in order to be acceptable to ourselves and the rest of the world. We place pressures and expectations on ourselves that are unrealistic, and often unattainable. We believe this is necessary to be deserving of respect and love - our own as well as that of others. Relax about all those items on your holiday "to do" list and dwell on the things that you've successfully finished rather than berate yourself for those things that remain undone. In the midst of holiday madness, we all to often forget that this is the season for love, forgiveness and gratitude. Make sure you put yourself at the top of the list.

3. Take care of yourself without becoming too self-focused: This is the flip side of number 2. It's a thin line to follow - being good to yourself and avoiding becoming too self-absorbed. When you take your eyes off of yourself and focus on those who have far less than you do, it's amazing how quickly a depression can lift. No matter what you're feeling now, you are not permanently damaged and your hopelessness will pass. Don't expect to believe it right now, but this is the truth. Don't berate yourself for being morose and cheerless. You don't expect that a cold will disappear within a day and you don't expect to escape a runny nose or a scratchy throat. You know you'll have symptoms and you know it's going to take time for them to go away.

4. Learn how to say no: While well-meaning loved ones and family often want to encourage us to join in the holiday spirit and festivities, there are times when a partial retreat from the social scene is in order; parties, get-togethers, and mingling with people who appear to be on top of the world can deepen our feelings of isolation and despair. Allow yourself to limit your social engagements to a manageable few and always with people with whom you can be yourself. Don't feel like you need to stay until the bitter end of every event you attend. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain that you're not feeling well but wanted to be sure to stop by and say hello. Knowing you have a plan "of escape" can really ease your anxiety. And who knows? You might actually relax enough to have some fun without having to be the life of the party.

5. Keep up with a spiritual practice: It seems that when most of us are feeling down, the last thing we want to think about, much less do, include meditation, prayer, affirmations, or practicing gratitude and forgiveness. But often the moments we feel the furthest away from God or the Source, is the exact time when we have the opportunity for the greatest soul growth and progress on our spiritual path. Take this holiday season to spend fifteen minutes every morning with some simple rituals: light a candle, read inspirational literature, write a gratitude list for all of the blessings you have, and pray for relief from your depression and to be able to enjoy even the smallest, but often the most meaningful aspects of the holiday.

Don't forget to ask for help if you need it. If you're feeling particularly desperate or are contemplating suicide, a 24-Hour Crisis Hotline to call is: 212-673-3000. This is a completely confidential service, staffed by professionally trained volunteers who have responded to over 1 million calls, providing immediately accessible ongoing emotional support to those who are in distress or suicidal.

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