Christmas depression? – Not Again

Christmas depression
Go away, it’s just another day

Holidays are often a time of joy and celebration, but for some people they are anything but. One of the things that makes Christmas more difficult is that there tends to be a long build-up about it; the shops are full of decorations and gifts and there’s a bombardment of media during the holidays showing images of smiling families and friends, people at parties eating and drinking seemingly without a care.

The reality, for the many people it’s a very difficult time. It’s common to feel pressure to create a magical Christmas, but if you are already stressed, anxious or depressed, that pressure can be magnified.

Some people may start to question the quality of their own relationships if they don’t spend December in a whirl of parties. Many will only visit friends for a casual drink, and never need to dress up. And Christmas Day itself, is often a complete let down for some due to a host of reasons, including family dynamics.

Depression can occur at any time of the year, however during the holiday season increased stress can cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and anxiety.

Social isolation is a predictor of depression especially during the holiday season. If you don’t have a big family, are single, have recently separated with a partner, or have been bereaved, then Christmas can sometimes be particularly miserable.

Social Isolation

People who are lonely or have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions at holiday time. Unfortunately, withdrawing often exacerbates these feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression. These individuals can experience self-doubt and start questioning themselves: ”Why can’t that be me?” or “Why is everyone happier than me?”. Sometimes we blame others for our circumstances, but sometimes we blame ourselves.

One of the best things a person can do, however, is to reach out to others (family, friends, and support organisations), despite how difficult it may seem.

Grieving During the Holidays

The holiday period can be a painful reminder of what once was. This is especially true for people who have experienced a significant loss, such as the death of a spouse or a break-up. For these individuals, it is important to manage expectations.

When envisioning how the holidays will unfold after a loss, it is helpful to include both the highs and lows in their expectations and understand that some days will be tougher than others. Grief emotions will ebb and flow and occurs in its own time. It is important to allow your grieving process to take the time you need, remember that everyone grieves differently.

At this time of year we often think that Christmas shouldn’t be affected by depression. However, it often is and it can be helpful to accept that Christmas is here and everyone experiences it differently.

Below are some simple strategies to help you deal with holiday blues:

Begin a new tradition. Plan a family outing or vacation instead of spending the holidays at home

Try not to succumb to holiday pressures. Feel free to leave an event if you aren’t comfortable and be willing to tell others, “I’m not up for this right now.”

Volunteer. Work at a community kitchen, organise or become involved in a donation drive within your community or simply help the neighbour.

Get back to nature.Going for a walk in the park or visiting one of the many National Parks can be a welcome change of scenery. Just being outdoors can help many people who are feeling overwhelmed to feel better.

Look after yourself. Try to maintain a regular sleep pattern. Regular exercise can contribute to improving your mood as well as general health. Eat a healthy balanced diet, and forgive yourself for the occasional indulgence.

Suicide Risk

If you are feeling overwhelmed or in crisis, Counselling in Melbourne encourages you to contact any of the Mental Health organisations for assistance. If you are at immediate risk please call Emergency Services on 000.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicideline:  1300 651 251

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 – 25)

These organisations are open 24hrs, 7 days a week.

About the editor, Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

I am a Registered Psychologist with AHPRA’s Psychology Board of Australia and a Chartered Counselling Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, UK. My formal training began with a B.A. in Psychology and Welfare at Charles Sturt University, and B.A. (Hons) Psychology from the University of Wollongong. I then progressed to the M.A. (Hons) Clinical Psychology at the same university before moving to the UK to undertake a PhD in Psychology from City, University of London.

Find out more about Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

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