Christmas cheer is a great concept. Yet it’s often far from the reality of this time of year, when depression becomes a battle for many.
For some it all sadly becomes too much – the Office for National Statistics in the UK has previously reported up to a 3% rise in female suicides and a 5% for men.
What is behind holiday depression?
Comparison is perhaps the bane of the season. We compare our lives to an unrealistic representation of shiny, perfect Christmas experiences we are bombarded with by the media. To others, like our colleagues and friends (they have more money than us, more success, a more exciting holiday plan, a more loving family). This Christmas is then held up to the past ones (before the divorce, or when we were in love and not single, or when our mother was still around and we weren’t grieving, or when we were younger, happier…).
Stress is higher. There are simply more things on the do list – more get togethers, more gifts to buy, more meals to plan. Add to this that we tend to drink more alcohol (a shocking 41% more according to statistics) and eat less discriminately, both of which can lead to sluggishness and disrupted sleeping patterns, and we aren’t even well equipped to deal with the stress.
There is also the stress of having to see family we don’t get along with, which can cause weeks of worry.
Negative thinking can run through your head more than a bad christmas carol. With New Years pending, you might be criticising yourself for what you did or didn’t do with your year, or having negative thoughts about your finances.
And many of us start to focus on what is missing from life in the face of the false cheer around us. Gratitude goes out the window as suddenly we don’t have the right relationship, the right house to have our relatives visit, the right income to go somewhere hot instead.
Loneliness is a big problem. Not having a family around you this time of year can make you feel like a leper no matter how much you claim you like the time to yourself.
And because loneliness is not even about being alone, but about not feeling connected to others, you can alternately find yourself surrounded by ‘friends’ and ‘family’ but feeling entirely lost.
So what can you do to pull through the Christmas Blues?
1. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling.
Trying to deny how you are feeling means you can’t start to seek solutions. It also means you miss the chance to realise if your mood issue is actually something like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which can be treated.
And if you are trying to hide from how you feel by overeating, or using drugs or alcohol, you will just be making things worse (read our article on alcohol and depression to learn how alcohol can actually be the cause, not cure, for your low moods).
2. If you can only manage one thing, go for self care.
If one thing slips during the holidays it’s a good self care routine. This is a big red flag if you suffer from low moods, because self-care is now understood to be a pillar of psychological wellbeing.
So go against the grain and keep your routine going. Exercise is proven to help moods. Eating well also matters, affecting your energy levels. As for alcohol, despite it being around more, see it as a glass of low mood instead of wine and choose wisely. Don’t forget a cornerstone of self care is taking time for yourself, even if that means saying no to yet another party.
3. Get into shades of grey.
No, not THAT shades of grey – but grey thinking. The kind of negative thinking that leads to depression tends to be extreme, black and white thinking that lacks reason.
Take a tip from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). When you have a negative thought, force yourself to think of the exact opposite, then write down a thought that is between the two that you can support with real facts. For example, if you think, ‘nobody cares that I am alone at Christmas”, the exact opposite is “everyone cares that I am alone at Christmas”, and the middle ground is, “you know my friend called the other day, and Jack at work asked if I’d be okay over the holidays – some people do care about my Christmas”.
4. Push yourself to get out and be active.
There are times when self-imposed isolation with a tub of ice cream is just the ticket. Christmas doesn’t tend to be this way if you are all alone and depressed – first of all, if you have time off work it’s not just a weekend of moping but can spiral out of control. And secondly, it is the one time where turning on the TV at home means you are faced with images of joy and peace that can make you feel worse. Find things to do that aren’t Christmas- y and force yourself out, whether that is the gym, a long walk, or even just taking yourself to a movie.
5. Consider volunteering.
It’s proven to help depression, and it manages to turn many Christmas problems around. It’s hard to compare yourself in a bad light or feel negative when you are helping others who are less fortunate, and you can’t be lonely surrounded by others doing things from the charity of their heart of accepting things with gratitude.
6. Forget presents, be present.
Remember Scrooge? And the hauntings by the ghosts of Christmases past and future? Many of us don’t need ghosts as we haunt ourselves, moping about the past we can’t change and the future we can’t control.
The place it is hardest to be miserable in is often the present moment. What in this exact moment, right now, is actually ok? What, right in front of you, can you see, smell, hear, or taste that is nice? Are you in a nice room, with nice music, and nice food in the stove? Are these not things to be happy about?
This is essentially mindfulness, a practice of being aware of your present thoughts and feelings that many therapists now use with clients due to its effectiveness at improving calm and wellbeing.
7. Don’t just put up the tree, put up your boundaries.
If you aren’t alone but are depressed because of family stress, this one is crucial. One of the main reasons we fall into low moods is low self-esteem, and often what is behind low self-esteem is the secret knowing that we’ve let people walk all over us again, ie, poor personal boundaries. Another reason for low moods and fatigue, and let’s face it, always overdoing it is exhausting! See the holidays as a great time to practice saying no to what you don’t want and learning to delegate and say yes to you.
Do you have another tip for staying sane over Christmas and New Year? Share below, we love hearing from you….