How to Deal with Holiday Depression and Grief During Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, except for many people it’s not. Many people are experiencing holiday blues, the feelings of loneliness, isolation or loss. It can be caused by illness, grief, end of a relationship, all this mixed with pressure and stress of the holidays.
“Holidays are a great example of expectations exceeding reality for most people. I encourage people to reduce their media dose if they’re sensitive to this idea of mismatch between reality and fantasy,” said Ken Duckworth, medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness
The idealized images sold to people about what the holidays look like and how everyone should feel, do no align with the circumstances of people’s lives, family dynamics and other stresses. Many families don’t have all the people they love on their Christmas table and not everyone can afford presents.
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Do not overvalue the holidays
When we overvalue the happiness during holidays, we set standards that are impossible to achieve. One study even showed that valuing happiness can be self-defeating because the more people value it, the more likely they’ll feel disappointed.
Overvaluing anything can be dangerous, especially around the holidays.
Have a plan for dealing with grief
Holidays are extremely difficult for people that lost someone.
“This is almost a universal human heartache your first Thanksgiving, your first Christmas, your first whatever your holiday is without your family member can be the hardest day. Whether you have a psychiatric vulnerability or not, the question is, ‘who do you surround yourself with to help you cope with that?” says Duckworth.
The holiday suicide myth
Although “holiday blues” is real, it doesn’t lead to increased suicide. Suicide rates have always been low in December, and highest during summer. Experts don’t know why the suicide rates are lowest around the holidays, but some studies suggest it’s because the meteorological conditions. Suicides tend to rise with the warmer weather.
Deborah Serani, a psychologist from New York, explains that many people experience depressive calmness during winter, so there’s no suicide urge. The suicide rated around the holidays also drop because people with depression are more supported and surrounded by family and friends.
Do not break up with your therapist during the holidays
If you’re seeing a therapist, do not stop seeing them during the holidays. Don’ t miss a session, don’t forget to take your medication, eat healthy, keep a healthy sleeping schedule and practice good self-care. Get more sunlight and more exercise.
If you feel overwhelmed and sad, isolation is not the answer. Try your best to stay connected to people who support you.
Have realistic expectations
Remember that what you see on ads and social media is polished, photoshoped and not real life. Feelings about the holidays will inevitably vary from person to person, so don’t put pressure on yourself.
Accept your feelings
Instead of avoiding or denying your feelings, accept them as they are. Consider exploring the possible reasons that you feel lonely. Are you away from your family for the holidays due to work or living out of the area? Did you have a recent break-up? Being honest with yourself will help you cope better.
Be realistic in your expectations for the holidays
Holidays can be filled with high expectations about family gatherings, parties with friends, and being close with your loved ones. You may have certain hopes and dreams about what the holidays should be like, and then feel let down when things don’t go as planned.
Remember that many people struggle with the holidays
Poor mood and alcohol related fatalities are more common near Christmas.Many people feel loneliness over the holidays for various reasons. Often the holidays are a reminder of our family and relationships with others. Know that it’s okay and common to feel down from time to time, particularly during the holidays.
Rekindle connections with family and friends
Sometimes when we’re feeling down or lonely, we feel even greater desire to isolate ourselves from others. Resist this urge to avoid or ignore others. While there may be certain people you want to avoid, try connecting with those in your past that love and support you.
Try meeting new people and connecting with acquaintances
Sometimes we ignore or are too busy to connect with our acquaintances or neighbors. Instead, make a point to talk to or spend time with them. Reach out and talk with new people, rather than distancing yourself.
Helping others in your community can help you connect with something bigger than yourself. It can be a reminder that there is much to be thankful for in life. It can also feel rewarding on a personal level and make you feel better.
Join an activity group
Finding groups with common interests or similar challenges as yourself can help you feel grounded and hopeful during the holiday season. Consider joining activity groups that keep you focused on the positive.
Find connections through a support group
If you’re struggling with a recent life transition such as divorce, a recent death, or family crisis, consider reaching out to support groups in your community. Support groups provide a sense of camaraderie through shared challenges or life experiences.
Focus on activities that bring you joy
Doing what you love can distract you from thoughts of loneliness and make you feel more at ease. Whether you love to play video games or watch classic movies, take time for yourself. Just be sure to balance this with socialization so that you don’t isolate yourself.