This time of year, I always notice an overwhelming need to slow down and have more “do nothing” time, which is highly inconvenient because the end of year is the time where most of us need to double down and do more.
Unfortunately, for all too many people, and particularly for all too many lawyers, the holiday season is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness and anxiety. It is a season that comes with a “holiday depression” of its own which can affect anyone, whether it be due to time pressures, family issues, financial worries, memories of past holidays or just loneliness. – Joseph L. (Larry) Shea, Jr, President of Louisiana Bar Association
Perhaps you’ve been experiencing some of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
These are symptoms for depression. And unfortunately, as lawyers, there’s a higher likelihood of suffering from depression than the general public. Studies indicate, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers.
The first thing to keep in mind if you’re experiencing the holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or depression is that you are not alone! Lawyers are often expected to put on a facade of being a warrior. Feelings and emotions are discouraged as is any signs of weakness. However, admitting that you’re in need of support, caring, or love from friends, family and colleagues is not a sign of weakness – quite the opposite – it’s a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit that you’re experiencing difficulties. It’s also an opportunity to foster mutual understanding and deepen your relationship.
Tips for Getting Through the Holidays With Depression
1. Watch Your Alcohol Consumption
Many studies suggest a correlation between depression and excessive alcohol consumption. As tempting as it may be to “treat” yourself with that extra drink at the end of the day, remember that this is a temporary solution and will likely make you feel worse.
2. Don’t Binge on Food
Along with the temptation to overdrink, you may also find yourself reaching for the second or third piece of pecan pie. We often use food to satisfy our emotional needs or as a way to soothe ourselves. Be mindful of this and choose a healthier option.
3. Move Your Body!
As we enter the belly of winter, and with the short daylight, it’s tempting to skip the gym or that walk at the end of the day. Remember the old adage, move a muscle, change a thought. Exercise can be the absolute last thing you want to do when you’re feeling depressed but studies show that movement and exercise lessens the symptoms of depression. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, lace up your sneakers and go outside for a brisk walk.
4. Mind Your Thoughts
Our own mind can be our worst enemy during the holiday seasons. You may engage in catastrophic thinking – imagining the absolute worst in every situation, mindreading – assuming the intentions or thoughts of others, or black and white thinking – only thinking in absolute terms.
What you think makes a difference in terms of how you feel. Start paying attention to your thoughts, what you tell yourself, especially when your mind starts engaging in negative self-talk such as “I’m worthless” or “I’m never good enough.”
5. Practice Self-Care
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” ~ Audrey Lorde
It’s easy to worry and fuss over others and their needs, especially during the holidays while neglecting your own needs. Remember to carve out time for self-care! This can be simple such as reading a good fiction book, going for a hike, having lunch with a friend, or getting a massage. You can’t care for others if you’re running on fumes.
6. Be Gentle With Yourself (and Others)
When emotions are running high and you’re pulling from your reserves, gently remind yourself that you are only human (and so is everyone else). We can all make mistakes, lose our temper, get snappy, etc. Practice gently reminding yourself that you are doing the best given the resources that are available to you – right now.
7. Seek Help
Those close to you – friends, colleagues and family may have the best intentions of wanting to help but there are times where you may need to seek the help of a professional. Many lawyers fear seeking the help of a therapist because of the stigma that’s associated with it. However, the longer you wait, the worse your depression will likely get. Also, the fear you have around getting help is likely far worse than anything that will happen as a result of seeking help. Unfortunately, depression and other mental illness can’t be seen (unlike many physical injuries) but just as serious.
My wish for you this holiday season that you be happy and free from suffering.
- List of Lawyers Assistance Programs (LAP) compiled by the ABA
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255 [24 hours, 7 days a week]
- Dave Nee Foundation
- Why Do Lawyers Fall Victim to Depression? [LawFuel]
- 9 Holiday Depression Busters [Lawyers With Depression]
- Making the Most of the Holidays [Massachusetts Lawyer Assistance Program]
- Staying Stress-Free During the Holidays [Huffington Post]
- Mindfulness, Mental Health and Lawyers Assistance [Louisiana Bar Journal, December/January 2015]
- Depressed Lawyers: A Little Help For My Friends [Huffington Post]
- When Your Holiday Is a Nightmare [Tennessee Bar Association]
- How to Avoid Holiday Blues [Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program]
- Beware of post-holiday depression [Baton Rouge Bar Association]
- Delicate Conversations: Is It Depression? [Attorney at Work]
- “Life is overrated”: One lawyer’s struggles with depression [Canadian Bar Association]