For many, depression is a daily struggle so it stands to reason that you might have to cope with depression on Christmas Day. Added to that, even though it’s a time of year designed as a celebration of peace, love, joy and family togetherness, the very fact that there is an expectation of sharing and merry times can be very stressful and highlight underlying feelings of loneliness or anxiety.
The song goes ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly, but in reality the festive season can present a perfect storm of personal challenges — money worries, family tensions, relationship troubles, social anxieties, peer expectations, and performance reviews coming up at work. And all this at a time when you are not feeling at your physical best due to lack of daylight, less time to exercise and pressure to eat and drink more. The general busy-ness and the seasonal hustle and bustle can leave you feeling very lonely and isolated but you are not alone in this, many people struggle at this time of year.
So what can you do about it if you are dreading this Christmas and New Year?
The key is learning to recognise your yuletide triggers, so you can deal with them before they lead to stress and isolation or even a breakdown or suicidal thoughts. Here are some steps you can take to help you to deal with your depression and try to secure a little peace and joy for yourself this festive season.
Acknowledge your feelings You can try to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season, but this is unlikely to work and will make you feel alone with your sadness or stress. But if you recognise that it’s normal to feel grief or irritation, whatever day of the year it is, and reassure yourself that it is okay to cry or show your emotions however you need to, you will be able to give your sad or difficult feelings space. Then, once you have truly felt or expressed them, you will have a better chance of actually feeling happy.
Reach out If you feel lonely or isolated but do not want to be with your family search out some community events or opportunities to volunteer. This way you will have the companionship and support of others, and it is a good way to lift your spirits.
Forget ‘Perfect’ There is such an emphasis placed on ‘perfection’ at this time of year that it can make you feel terrible — as if you are in some way flawed or imperfect and cannot live up to that ideal.
Adopt an empathic stance If your mother, spouse or a friend get angry or stressed when something goes wrong or is not ‘perfect’ try to be understanding; chances are they are feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.
Be realistic Christmases don’t have to be just like they were in your childhood or even last year. As time goes on families change and grow and the rituals and traditions can change with them. You might want to keep a few ‘heritage ones’ but be open to creating new traditions that suit you all better now. For example, if not all your siblings or children can come to you this year find new ways to celebrate together, such as Skyping or sending each other memories or pictures and videos of previous years.
Suspend your grievances Try to accept your friends and relatives with warts and all, even if they have disappointed or hurt you and don’t live up to your expectations. Set aside the arguments that you feel need to be had until a more appropriate time.
Just say no Feeling that you have to say yes to all your invites can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. People (mostly) will understand that you can’t participate in every social occasion or activity. So cut yourself a bit of slack: it is okay if you cannot attend everything and it is okay not to stay until the end, you can just go for an hour or two.
Stay healthy There is a lot of pressure to eat and drink vast quantities of not-always healthy food choices at this time of year, but overindulgence can add to your stress and feelings of guilt and shame so try to allow yourself to enjoy many treats (in the knowledge that you can go back to healthier habit in a week or so) but don’t let it become a binge-fest or get of hand.
Do your own thing Everyone has something that makes them feel good and helps them relax. It might be doing Sudoku, reading a book, colouring in or walking the dog, but whatever it is make sure you build in time for that. Yes, you might feel you have to be ‘on’ for others all the time at Christmas, but even a few minutes a day doing ‘your’ thing can make a big difference to your stress levels and ability to cope.
Breathe! Make some quiet time for yourself. Even if you only manage to carve out five distraction-free minutes, this can be enough of a reboot or refresh to fortify you to regulate your emotions and handle everything you have to do.
Reach Out Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes. It can be difficult to know how, or who, to ask, but the important thing is not to try to cope on your own. Talk to someone about how you are feeling, if it feels too much to tell your family and friends, make an appointment to talk to your GP.
Consider talking to a professional Despite taking all the sensible steps above, if you find yourself overwhelmed by your apathy, anxiety, irritability or sadness, or you are not sleeping well, feel exhausted and cannot face your daily tasks then it could be time to make an appointment to talk to a mental health professional.
If this Christmas and New Year make you aware that you need some professional support, give us a call. We have therapists who specialise in depression, anxiety and relational difficulties. Give us a call on 020 8673 4545 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org