Effective Tips to Protect Your Mental Health this Christmas
It is the most wonderful time of the year. Some people cannot wait for the Christmas holidays. They would love that the Christmas season could last all year long and that they never had to put away the decorations, tree, and lights. Yet, this time of the year is the most depressive for some, and they cannot wait for the Christmas rush to end.
Knowing and understanding the difference between holiday blues and seasonal depression is essential.
The entertainment industry and religious customs turned December into a month of obligatory gifting, fun, and celebrations. This came with too many expectations of joy, happiness, blissfulness, and idyllic family relationships. Ideally, everything should be perfect: the gifts you buy, the food you prepare, and even your hair and clothes should be as stylish as you see in a magazine.
When you add short sunlight exposure and long nights to the equation, reality kicks in, and anxiety and depression can take over.
Sometimes these feelings can be so overwhelming that a person might need to seek medical attention.
Seasonal depression vs. Holiday depression
If you occasionally feel depressed and sad during the winter months, but your mood improves as the spring season is near, you most likely suffer from a condition known as winter depression. This type of depression is medically recognized as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Around ten percent of people suffer from it but probably don't realize it.
Some treatment options are:
- medication (e.g., antidepressants),
- phototherapy (treatment with special lamps that have bright white light),
- physical activity,
- or all combined.
Sunlight regulates your body's biological clock and the production of brain hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a happiness hormone; it makes you feel happy and calm. Melatonin is mostly produced during the night, and it makes you feel sleepy.
The lack of sun exposure can facilitate depression. If you are affected by it, phototherapy compensates for the natural lack of light. Research shows that the best results come from doing this therapy in the early morning.
On the other hand, if you feel sad and depressed only during the holidays, you most likely have holiday depression.
This can occur whenever you have more free time and don’t work: on Sundays, during summer vacation, and especially in December when the days are short and mostly without sun (lack of light is a biological factor for depression).
Causes of Christmas Blues
December can be tuff if you are alone, do not have anyone to celebrate the holidays with, or cannot afford all the expensive gifts or a table full of food.
We all know that the price value of the gifts does not matter. However, some parents cannot afford to buy any for their kids, which can cause feelings of failure, disappointment, and sadness. If you are struggling financially, remember that the most precious gift you can give to your loved ones is your time and love.
On the other hand, some can feel lonely for various reasons:
- They recently lost someone significant.
- The holidays bring the memory of a lost loved one.
- Their family lives far away.
- They don't have a spouse or a partner, while everyone around them has one.
Other causes include:
- Society demands - the pressure to feel happy and enjoy the holidays; feeling differently about Christmas compared to how the media and social media represent it; overwhelming public places with too much noise, light, smells, and overcrowds; too much alcohol and food you do not usually consume.
- Missing loved ones - if you recently went through a divorce or broke up with someone; if you miss someone who passed away recently or a long time ago; not being in contact with your family or loved ones; if you cannot be with dear people due to illness;
- Seeing people you want to avoid - pressure to see a family member or people you would rather be distanced from; having less privacy; seeing or being with people who remind you of traumatic experiences. In this case, remember you do not have to deal with someone who does not accept you or triggers your trauma.
- Financial issues - debt; extra costs for food, gifts, clothes; paycheck timing or banks closed.
- Practical worries - if you have to work during the holidays and your kids are at home alone; the stress of planning a Christmas trip and expecting everything to be perfect; some services being closed during the holidays; the stress of finding time to prepare everything and satisfy everyone.
- Spending the holidays in a hospital – you would rather spend them in the comfort of your home; visiting rules might be different due to lack of staff; you might feel you are missing out on the holidays.
How can you beat holiday depression?
Here are some tips on how to feel better:
- Get proactive!
Avoid sitting alone in your room, looking at your phone, and seeing your friends at a party having fun. If this is your wish, join them! Turn off social networks, pick up the phone and call your friends. Create a group chat, give a few suggestions, and go out. Let your friends know that you want to go out with them.
However, if you prefer to spend time with yourself only, just lay in your bed, have a cup of hot chocolate, eat your favorite snacks and watch your favorite movies. Who says you are obligated to be with people during Christmas? Only you can choose what makes you happy.
- Collect moments, not things.
When you see all the commercials on the tv and pop-ups on your phone, it is hard not to wish for a new gadget, book, or just about anything that would look good under your Christmas tree. The pressure to have as many and the most expensive gifts can become overwhelming.
Sometimes your budget does not follow these expectations or wishes. Remember that it is about something other than the price. In a few years, you will value the time you spent with your loved ones and probably won’t remember the gifts you got and the ones you wished for.
Work with your budget! Make your personalized, unique gifts, and let them know you spent time thinking about what would make them happy. Do it with love. It is the best present you can give your loved ones, and it doesn't have to cost much.
- Teach and share some of your fun hobbies or interests.
- Plan ahead, and make a list.
First, think about what will make you happy this year, and ask yourself what you love about holidays. Then make plans. You can plan just about everything. You can start with social commitments. Parties, family dinners, office parties... Choose people you want to spend time with. Avoid places you do not want to be in and people you do not want to see. It is totally up to you.
If you are hosting at home, plan your meals and create a shopping list. It will minimize last-minute shopping for forgotten ingredients.
Also, ask for help. Let your guests know you need help, and assign their duties. Once the dinner is over and everyone is fully-fed, it will be nice to sit together and enjoy the moments without one of you still cleaning up.
If your family or close friends are far away, organize a group call where you can all be together and catch up.
- Make a budget plan
With all the price increases this year, budget planning might worry you the most. You need to be realistic and keep your expectations low. Christmas is not about competition and impressing others. It is about being modest and humble. So do not stress yourself if your budget is less than it was the last couple of years. We already discussed some original personalized gifts you can make for your family and friends. Another great idea is to go out and find a Christmas market with lights where you can take great family photos.
Plan your meals, and keep them simple. Cook the food you love, not what the tradition dictates. Make your own tradition. Cooking is a great way to boost creativity and makes us feel accomplished afterward.
Make your own decorations. You can join DIY groups in your community or find ideas online. Crafts and arts are great ways of coping with depression. You can make what you like and will love seeing your hands work around the house. Pu up as many lights as you can - it will lift your spirit.
- Help your community
Give purpose to your holidays. Many people live below the poverty line and can't afford to celebrate Christmas. If you feel you can help in any way, put your energy into it. Simple acts of kindness improve your mood through a sense of meaning and purpose. Get involved by volunteering or donating food, giving emotional support, or gifts. You can involve your kids too, organize an advent calendar where they can have chores of acts of kindness and help the elderly or their neighbors.
- Maintain your routine
If you exercise, continue to do so. Walking is an excellent way to start if you don't. Breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation are great ways of coping with stress and depression.
Eat regularly and healthily. Try to avoid too much food, alcohol, sugar, tobacco, caffeine, carbs, etc.
Remember to sleep. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.
Have time for yourself. Taking a break from your daily activities is good when you feel overwhelmed. Find activities that make you feel good. Create a playlist of songs you love that boosts your energy. Dance to that music.
Set boundaries; it is ok to say no to things you don't want to do and want to avoid. Understand your feelings. Do not be afraid to talk about them. Find local support groups if you don't have a close person to talk to. Many people might feel the same as you.
Remember that holidays don't last forever; set a time for what you count as the beginning and the end of Christmas. Then treat yourself with an "after holiday " vacation or activity as a reward for coping with the holiday rush.
The bottom line
"The most wonderful time of the year " isn't wonderful for everyone.
Christmas can bring up many uncomfortable feelings and memories. Protect your mental health and be prepared when the holidays come. With a bit of planning, you can enjoy this time of the year, even if in a different way.
However, if you are still struggling, despite all your efforts to feel better, do not hesitate to ask for help.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Mind. Uk, Bestmadenatural products, the Spinoff, CMHA, Northern Healthcare