Our culture suggests that the winter holiday season is supposed to bring joy as we spend more time with family and friends. The reality, however, is that the season can bring on painful memories, disappointment, and stress.
Studies show that depression is more common in the holiday months than at any other time of year. The reasons for our dark, discouraged feelings are many. Quite a few people suffer from the seasonal affective disorder, which is thought to be caused by low levels of the brain chemicals that foster a sense of happiness. These neurotransmitters are harder for our bodies to make when there’s less sunlight.
There are other reasons to feel blue as the year draws to an end. We may feel disheartened by the commercialization that surrounds our holiday celebrations, especially if we’re facing financial difficulties. We may also enter a period of reflection, which – if we judge ourselves too harshly – can cause tremendous pain.
Depression, of course, is a medical term used to describe an ailment that goes beyond occasional sadness. If you are living with depression and you know that your symptoms are getting worse, this is the time to reach out to your medical doctor or therapist for extra support. If you are not sure whether you are depressed right now, it’s also wise to visit your doctor or counsellor to discuss what’s happening and make a plan to turn things around.
Here are a few tips and reminders that can help all of us manage moments of sadness during the holidays.
RECOGNIZE WHEN THE PAST GREETS YOU IN THE PRESENT
If you’re feeling sad, the cause may go all the way back to your childhood. It will help you to remember that painful experiences were not yours to choose from. You lived through them, but as a young one dependent on your elders, you didn’t create them on your own. Releasing your sense of responsibility for the past will give you greater peace in the present.
EMBRACE “ALONE TIME”
During the holidays, we may feel overwhelmed by the constant presence of family, friends or even just the crush of crowds at shopping centers. Just giving yourself a few quiet moments each day to spend as you choose will ease the impact of so much togetherness. Sitting with yourself or writing in a journal can help you identify what you’re feeling, and possibly why you’re feeling it.
SKIP MAKING ANY BIG LIFE DECISIONS
Chances are that if you’re feeling unhappy right now, you’re having trouble dealing with even the most ordinary levels of stress. This may mean that your mind isn’t as sharp as it may be at other times when your mood is lighter. Set major decisions aside for now, and if this makes you anxious, mark your calendar for a date a few months from now when you’ll likely be feeling differently.
RESPECT YOUR BODY
This does not mean being overly concerned with gaining weight during the holidays. But it does mean being attentive to stress eating or binge drinking, which will only make you feel worse. Try to find some balance as you enjoy the flavors of the season, and counterbalance your intake with healthy exercise, especially the kind that takes you outdoors for sunshine and fresh air.
BE OBJECTIVE WHEN YOU REFLECT ON THE YEAR
Yes, some things have not gone your way. And yes, you may have faced losses and defeats and disappointments. But also be sure to count — literally, if necessary — all the good things that have happened. Don’t forget to think of all the people who have made a positive impact. Maybe now is a time to call or write them to express your gratitude.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO STRUGGLE ALONE
As an experienced therapist working in the Edmonton area, I know this time of year can cause suffering. Anxiety and depression can make it difficult to allow even the smallest bit of joy into our hearts. If you need help dealing with a holiday or year-end stress, please get in touch with me today.