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As someone with clinical depression, the holiday season is particularly burdening. I feel the overwhelming sense that everyone around me is having “the most wonderful time of the year,” while to me, yuletide feels like a monsoon of pressure, isolation and lying in bed thinking about the chores I’m not doing and the parties I’m not invited to.
If a person in your life has depression (either clinical or seasonal), you may want to give them a little extra tenderness this time of year. “It’s very difficult when you have depression, to respond to the mandate to be ‘holly jolly,’” LeslieBeth Wish, a licensed clinical psychotherapist in Sarasota, Florida and author of “Training Your Love Intuition,” told HuffPost. “And it’s everywhere. You walk into your local pharmacy, they’ve got Christmas decorations up. All kinds of things are red and green. ‘Happy holidays’ feels like a command.”
As Wish described, the holiday season comes with an overwhelming pressure to be merry, spend money and go to all sorts of social engagements. If your loved one lost their job during the COVID pandemic or doesn’t have the capacity to attend large gatherings, they may feel even more isolated or judged in the winter.
“All the advertisements on TV are for expensive things,” Wish said. “But what if you can’t afford it? What if they can’t get out of the house?”
To take the pressure off your loved one, and to make them feel more connected this season, Wish suggested being very explicit and affirming. Let them know you don’t expect them to be running the Christmas parade. Remind them it’s OK to feel their feelings and that they don’t have to perform happiness. Check-in with them during the day, if only to say hi or send a picture of your lunch. And ensure them that gift-giving isn’t transactional and that you don’t expect or demand anything back in return.
In addition to kind words, Anita A. Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Chicago, recommended initiating low-key hangouts to nix any holiday FOMO.
“People with depression can have distorted thinking,” Chlipala told HuffPost. “And so they might be making the assumption that ‘everybody else is happy except for me.’”
When all they see is laughter, lavish gifts and twinkle lights on social media, someone with depression may start to feel like they’re a Scrooge or Grinch for not being in the “Christmas spirit.” If your loved one is not up for parties or events, consider making cookies at home or watching something fun on TV.
And if you’re looking to nail the perfect present for your loved one with depression, Wish suggested keeping an open mind. Don’t be fooled by outdated conceptions of gift-giving — yummy takeout or help around the house are great presents for someone with depression. Handwritten notes, photo books or other sentimental gifts show your person how loved they are. (They also don’t add any of that “I spent all this money on you, what are you getting me?” pressure.)
To ensure your gift is well-received, Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California and author of “Joy from Fear,” said there are some things you want to stay away from.
“Avoid gifts that may increase a sense of expectation or feelings of worthlessness,” Manly told HuffPost. “Pre-paid solo gym memberships, a framed photo that might carry a negative memory, books that have a depressive energy or any gift that the depressed person may find triggering or take as an insult.”
Amelia Peck, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Hamburg, New York, added that people who are struggling with mental health often don’t feel seen or understood. While you may have intended a new yoga mat or “stress-reducing anti-puffiness” face mask to be soothing to your loved one, they may see these gifts as criticizing their body or lifestyle. Instead of trying to “fix” them or “improve” their lives, Peck suggested giving gifts that are just nice, kind things that will make them smile.
“Gifts are about showing love for others, and we can love someone by showing them empathy for what they’re going through,” she said.
To help you be the most informed gift giver this holiday season, we’ve rounded up the best expert-approved gifts for people with depression.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.