Most people love Christmas: the music and coloured lights, traditions, great food, gifts and special gatherings with family and friends. There are some, however, who dread the season or find it stressful; they experience a significant contrast between their unhappiness and the celebrations taking place around them.
Where do the Christmas Blues come from and what can be done to ease them? Let’s first look at the causes.
- Seasonal fatigue is a factor for many people. Christmas comes at the end of a busy Fall and it is not unusual to be exhausted from everyday demands. The increased socializing and holiday preparations can seem overwhelming to someone who is already worn down or “burned out.” SAD or Seasonal Affect Disorder can also contribute to the blues, as the loss of light tends to bring on depression symptoms for many people.
- Hyper- activity is the name of the game in the month prior to the Christmas celebration. With hectic work and family schedules, the pre-Christmas season can be exhausting. Party overload!
- The ghosts of Christmas past can surface readily during this time of year. Some people have sad or hurtful memories of celebrations past. For instance, a person who grew up with an alcoholic parent may recall excessive drinking and uncontrolled fighting during past holidays.
- Grief surfaces strongly at Christmas. This season of family celebration can be particularly painful for anyone who has suffered the death of a loved one in the previous year. The grief may have begun to settle, but now it returns with a vengeance as memories of the missing special person flood to the surface with all the seasonal reminders.
What is the cure for the Christmas Blues? In some instances there may not be a cure so much as a management strategy to ease the discomfort.
- Seasonal fatigue – Make time to rest during the holiday break. Realizing that seasonal fatigue is a normal result of living busy lives, time can be built in to “chill.” Making time to watch movies or read novels or play games with family can all help to recharge the human battery. Going for walks can be relaxing and good for the body. Deciding to change one’s attitude about dark and gloomy days can help as well. Enjoying the coloured lights which don neighbourhood homes can be a means of making the most of the darker evenings. Deciding that winter is a great time to reacquaint oneself with the inside of one’s home and the interests therein (music, books, organizing the thousands of pictures on the computer etc.) can make the season less distressful.
- Hyper-activity – Say NO to some invitations and stay home and take it easy. When out socializing, leave early and monitor (i.e. cut back) the intake of goodies and alcohol.
- The ghosts of Christmas past – Become a temporary journal writer and take fifteen minutes a day (more if you wish) to write memories and the feelings which accompany them. In this way you will stop your mind from automatically focusing on old happenings and get a release at the same time. Sometimes in the past when we were hurt there was no chance to release the personal upset. The old unexpressed hurt may be the main reason the memory still has power.
- Grief – Accept “anniversary grief” as being normal and not a slipping backwards. Also keep up traditions which were shared with the deceased, even though they can be accompanied by sad feelings. Eventually the traditions will be seen as a way of connecting with the loved person who is gone. It can also be helpful to create new traditions and one of them can be a dinnertime toast to the memory of the person(s) who has died. The Christmas season is an opportunity to further one’s healing after a loss. The secret to “good grief” is to experience it and share it with others repeatedly over time. If one has “let go” of the person who has died, experiencing and sharing the pain associated with the loss leads to eventual healing. Avoiding the pain tends to delay, if not prevent, healing.
Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to rest, socialize sensibly, journal one’s thoughts/ memories/ feelings, release old hurts from long ago and celebrate the memories of very special people in our lives.
Denis works with couples and individuals. His areas of interest include marriage, grief and stress. He also offers counselling to those who suffer from depression and anxiety symptoms.
Denis is eclectic in his use of psychological approaches, which include Adlerian, Cognitive/behavioural, existential and emotionally focused therapies.
Denis has published a book titled, “Marriage Can Be Great!…no really,” which provides tips and strategies that can assist in strengthening relationships.
Denis was a Clinical Assistant Professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and also helped to create the first hospice program in B.C. in 1975.
Denis received his Master of Arts degree from the University of British Columbia in 1977 and works as a Registered Psychologist. He is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.
Most importantly Denis has been married to Maureen for over forty-five years and they have four children and four grandchildren.