Personally, I love Christmas but it hasn’t always been that way. In part that’s due to seeing the effect that this time of year can have on the people I talk to. Working for many years in the Mental Health system I also know how it can be a very busy time for those charged with responding to acute mental health crises. But why is this? Why do some people struggle to have a “Merry Christmas”? Mark and I talked about this on Radio Live this Sunday morning. (Click here to listen to the audio of the interview)
A recent study by the Samaritans in the UK suggests that nearly half of all men feel sad or depressed at Christmas time…
“Of the 140 interviewed, around 45 per cent say they feel more worried over the festive season than at any time of year, 37 per cent admit to feeling lonely and 30 per cent are stressed and anxious.
For many men, their sadness is increased by the expectation that everyone should have a good time, with 45 per cent complaining they feel pressure from others to be happy when they are not.” (Click here for the whole article)
There is little question that it is a time of year that comes loaded with expectation, and if you are struggling financially, have conflicted relationships with your parents or family, or have recently lost someone close to you it can be hard to validate these feelings when everyone is telling you to have a “Merry Christmas”. And the survey is even more important because in the UK, and similarly in NZ, men are more likely than women to take their life than women.
However other studies show the picture may be less clear cut. Some claim there is no connection between Christmas and increased depression and suicide, pointing out that the suicide rate and admission rates tend to drop in December. This is true, but the details are a bit more complex. It seems that suicide and depression presentations drop during December overall but then take a sharp rise immediately following the holidays, as high as a 40% increase according to one Danish study.
This certainly makes sense to me, as I think what can commonly happen is people can hold on and “survive” the intense stress and distraction of the lead up to Christmas day and the holidays, even if they’re miserable, but once the day has passed and there is more space to think, then depression can come crashing down.
So what can you do to survive the holiday period, and Christmas day in particular, if this time of year tends to make you miserable?
- Be mindful of “shoulds” and expectations. As much as possible try to make the day, and the holidays, what you want and need. Challenge the need to do the same thing every year just because “that’s what we’ve always done/ have to do”.
- Talk to your partner, family, parents about how to make the days less stressful. Do we need to have the big midday feast, do all the adults need to buy each other presents?
- Talk about your feelings, with loved ones and friends. If it’s been a tough year, take some time to process all that’s happened.
- Watch how much you drink, alcohol is a depressant and can make our mood worse (even though it might feel like it helps at first).
- If you’re taking time off try and stick to basic routines around sleep and exercise. Don’t let yourself become inactive, this can lead to depression.
- If you’re on your own, try and find some ways to be with people. Accept invitations to “orphans Christmas” celebrations, attend a local Church service, or volunteer at the City Mission or other charities. If you do want to just stay home and be on your own, find a way to fully accept that, and make it a day just for you.
So this year if you’re worried about yourself, or someone else, these good people are available to talk to. Even on Christmas day…