On Christmas Depression
A recent survey by the Samaritans suggested that nearly 50% of men feel sad or depressed at Christmas (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/nearly-one-in-two-men-feel-depressed-over-christmas-survey-reveals-9908855.html). Reasons for this will, of course, vary from one person to another, but might include:
© Elizabeth Burns, 2014
- Christmas is billed as a time of great happiness. If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel happy, and others appear to be having a wonderful time, this might make you feel worse – especially if you are separated by death or estrangement from loved ones, have no one to celebrate with, or feel that others have excluded you from their celebrations.
- Christmas cards are reminders of relationships and friendships – but also of those you don’t hear from, either because they have died, or you have lost touch.
- Christmas ‘round-robin’ letters might be an easy way of communicating news to a large number of recipients – but if others’ lives seem to be going according to plan when yours is not, this can add to seasonal gloominess.
- Christmas Day is often referred to as ‘the big day’, and retailers often advertise delivery of their goods and services ‘in time for Christmas’, as if everything must be perfect for this one day of the year. Since it rarely is, this can lead to a profound sense of disappointment.
- There isn’t much to do at Christmas except sit around your house – or someone else’s – eating and watching television, perhaps in the company of people who, for one reason or another, seem to make life more difficult.
- It’s difficult to do ‘normal’ things in December. The shops are full of Christmas shoppers, online orders may take much longer than usual, and medical assistance may take much longer to access unless you have a genuine emergency.
- Christmas is a Christian festival. If you are not a Christian, what, exactly, are you meant to be celebrating?
- Keep to a regular routine as much as possible.
- If you can, walk for 20 minutes a day – a number of research studies suggest that it helps depression.
- Ideally, walk, or at least go outside, when it’s light. If you can’t get natural light, at least try to spend as much time as possible in bright light during the day. Even if you don’t think you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), bright light may help to lift your mood.
- Get enough sleep. Being over-tired can make you feel more depressed. So don’t drink caffeinated drinks after 6pm (some say it’s best to stop this earlier in the day, but this probably depends on how much it affects you), don’t look at laptops, tablets, or phones in the evening any more than you have to (because the light from them tells your brain to wake up), and try not to watch TV in the hour before bed.
- Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant. Buy something else ‘special’ which tastes good – e.g. good quality orange juice, etc.
- You may not be able to affect how others behave towards you, but you can focus on how you behave towards them. If you treat them well, it may affect how they treat you. If not, at least you won’t feel guilty about your own behaviour.
- If members of your family insist on rehearsing the details of old family disputes, you might think it polite to listen and sympathise. But you might not be doing either them or yourself any favours. If there is still something which can be done to resolve the dispute, there might be some point in discussing it, but, if not, constant re-telling of the story just keeps the pain alive – which is particularly unhelpful for those who are struggling with depression. Encourage the person to focus on positive events in the past. Perhaps a Christmas project might be to compile an account of the happy events in the life of your family, with pictures if possible. It’s sometimes said that people who are depressed find it more difficult to remember happy events so they – or you – may need help with this.
- Don’t spend the whole day in the company of your family and/or friends. This may depend on your personality, but most people need some time to themselves.
- You don’t have to spend a whole week watching TV and putting on weight; think of a project which Christmas will give you time to complete. If you don’t have a hobby, think about what you might particularly enjoy, or what others say that you are good at.
- Do a jigsaw. Even if you think this is a rather pointless activity, it does focus the mind away from depressing thoughts.
- Read a cheerful book, or watch comedy programmes.
- Try something new. This could be food, drink, a book, a television programme you don’t normally watch – or something more ambitious.
- Do something for others. A common suggestion is to volunteer at a Christmas shelter, but if you are not able to do this, you could knit squares for charity (e.g. http://www.knit-a-square.com), or get involved with citizen science for Cancer Research UK (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/citizen-science-apps-and-games-from-cancer-research-uk).
- Lend a small sum of money to someone in need (see, for example, http://www.lendwithcare.org).
- Think about the meaning of the Christmas story – even if you are not a Christian. See my article ‘Christmas for Non-Christians’ (in the ‘Spirituality’ section of this website) for some suggestions.
© Elizabeth Burns, 2014