Christmas cheer is a great concept. Yet it’s often far from the reality of this time of year, when depressionbecomes a battle for many.
The Office for National Statistics in the UK has previously reported up to a 3% rise in female suicides, and 5% for men.
What is behind holiday depression?
1. Far too much ‘comparison shopping’.
And we aren’t talking about actual gifts here.
We compare our lives to an unrealistic representation of shiny, perfect Christmas experiences we are bombarded with by the media.
And we compare our holidays to those of others, like our colleagues and friends. They have more money than us, more success, a more exciting holiday plan, a more loving family.
And if that is not enough, this Christmas is then held up to the past ones. The one 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…
2. Stress is higher.
There are simply more things on the to-do list. More get togethers, more gifts to buy, more meals to plan.
Add to this that we tend todrink more alcohol (a shocking 41% more according to statistics) and eat less discriminately Both of which can lead to sluggishness and disrupted sleeping patterns, so 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.
3. End of year anxiety leads to negative thinking.
So what can you do if the Christmas blues are nipping at your heels?
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 mist 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.
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.
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.