The month of December isn’t always “merry and bright” for everyone. For those that feel blue this season; here is some encouragement…
Why is Christmas Blue?
Not everyone thinks that this is the most wonderful time of the year. While many are consumed by parties, gift giving, spending time with family and friends, and those warm and happy images we see in media advertising, for many people the reality of the holidays isn’t so cheerful. Between end of year deadlines, loss of loved ones, poor eating and drinking habits, and the dark and cold days of winter setting in, it’s easy for the holiday season to feel not so merry and bright.
Constant reminders of others’ happy seasons can be a painful reminder of the happiness and love that is missing in our own lives. A few years ago I took a tour of the old federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The city of San Francisco is in plain view of the island, and is only a mile away. It was told that during the Christmas holidays, the prison inmates would be terribly affected by the sounds of parties coming from the mainland, which was a terrible reminder of what was missing in their lives. For many, the holiday season can be particularly difficult for those dealing with family conflict, the memories of lost loved ones, breakups, divorce, loneliness and mental health issues.
Here are some of the risk factors of holiday depression, and how you can avoid them:
Setting up unrealistic expectations. Hoping for a picture perfect White Christmas is setting yourself up for not only disappointment but potentially depression. Let’s face it, families can be messy, dysfunctional, and full of conflict. People disagree on politics, religion, sports, and just about everything else that can be discussed at the dinner table.
If holidays tend to be a time of conflict in your family, or you’ve recently experienced the loss of a loved one, putting pressure on family or yourself to all get along or to be cheerful could lead to disappointment and additional anxiety. Being mindful of what you do have to be thankful for can help combat feelings of deficiency and loss.
Comparing your situation to others. Both in real life and on social media, it can be difficult to avoid comparing yourself with others around the holidays. If you have a less than perfect family, a past trauma from this time of year, or just a less than full holiday dance card, comparing your situation with others’ is a recipe for increased sadness and isolation. And our basis for comparison is not based on reality, because most families have issues, and most people do not have the perfect Christmas that they would like to have or that they remember from their childhood.
Slacking on self care. For many people, this is the busiest time of the year. For that reason, we tend to lose self discipline and let slide those things that are important to our mental and physical health: poor eating habits, too much drinking, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep, can lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Another risk factor for the blues is trying to do too much. It’s a very busy season, and we often get carried away with the schedule of events and too often forget how to say no.
If you tend to start feeling down when winter approaches, and those negative feelings don’t go away after the holidays are over, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many people who think they are suffering from a case of holiday blues may actually be suffering from SAD, a form of depression that’s brought on by the change of seasons. This should not be dismissed as mere “winter blues”. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of this disorder. But whether its holiday blues, winter blues, or something more serious, talk to someone. You might start with your pastor, or a Stephen Minister. Making a real, human connection to another is vital to your health.