You’ve recently gone through the mind and body-shattering experience of birthing a child and you find yourself pinned down under the heavy weight of a maternal mental health disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Now the holiday season is right around the corner, but happiness and cheer? Gratitude and family time? Smiles and shopping in crowded places? Decorating and hosting? Cooking and baking? Travel and small talk with relatives?
All of it just sounds so exhausting and overwhelming and impossible to get through this year. You feel tremendous guilt that you can’t find the gratitude you’re supposed to have after having a baby. Your anxiety spikes, you can’t understand why you feel so miserable during what should be such a joyous time and no amount of Hanukkah candles or Christmas lights can outshine the darkness you feel trapped in.
Mama, you are not alone in wanting to have nothing to do with the holidays this year. Of the thousands of women who have babies around holiday time (or even months before), 1 in 5 will be affected by a maternal mental health disorder. That’s hundreds of thousands of women who don’t have much holiday spirit, just like you. So how can you show up for the holidays, for your family, even for yourself, when simply getting out of bed seems impossible?
Start with understanding that it’s okay to not be okay. Give yourself permission to not be okay and let go of the belief that you’re not allowed to be sad during this time of year. Depression and anxiety don’t discriminate based on the holidays. Also, you’re not responsible for carrying the weight of everyone else’s mood or managing their expectations of how they believe you should feel. If friends or family feel uncomfortable because you can’t find your smile and don’t feel like faking one, that’s about them.
If you have other children, I get wanting to smile and put on a brave face for them. It’s hard to let our kids who understand some form of “mommy is sick” see us that way. This is where your partner and other family members can help. Your partner can take your older children out for some holiday fun like visiting Santa, going to an arcade or ice skating, while you stay home to feel your feelings and get some rest. If you have family in town visiting for the holidays or even if you are the one doing the visiting, they can pitch in and do the same so you can take care of you.
Next, take a serious time out this year — and not the kind where you sit in a chair, staring at the wall thinking about what you did wrong —because you haven’t done anything wrong. Take a time out from throwing the “perfect” holiday and being the holiday family organizer. I know it can be hard to let go of expectations and also feel like if you don’t do it, it won’t get done, but is that really true? It might not get done in the exact way you would do it, but is that so bad right now? You don’t need to set the bar so high when you’re feeling so low. Again, give yourself permission.
Also, please consider a social media detox. If you’re a scroller like me, you know your Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds will be filled with curated images of cookie decorating, tablescapes, perfectly wrapped presents under perfectly adorned trees, and more. Don’t look at them. Log out of your accounts on your computer. Delete the apps from your phone if that helps your will power to stay off the feeds that could lead you down the rabbit hole of comparing yourself to others, making you feel worse than you already do.
Finally, setting boundaries is one of the highest forms of self-care. You’re allowed to limit the celebrations. If you don’t want to host or attend a big Christmas Eve dinner, don’t. If waking up Christmas morning in pajamas and hanging on the couch feels better, do that. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to social commitments either. The gingerbread houses will be there to decorate next year. If you really want latkes and donuts, I’m sure a friend would be happy to make them and drop them off. If there are parties in your neighborhood, just ask if your older kids can be dropped off or send your partner with the baby and take that time for yourself.
It’s okay to put yourself first, and ask for exactly what YOU need, even during the holidays. They don’t have to be about everyone else this year. Here’s my permission to make them about you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during-pregnancy or postpartum, contact Postpartum Support International at 1-(800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by going to the nearest ER, calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International