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Those Holiday Blues

Ironically, this time of year, often filled with increased opportunities for relaxing and connection with others, is a time of increased stress and depression.  Although the song tells us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” for many it is clearly not.

One study stated that two-thirds of women report depression during the holidays and according to a Mayo Clinic study there are a few familiar triggers behind the depression. Psychiatrist Dr. Johnson noted that “Depression is higher in the winter months in general, but the biggest cause of holiday depression is unmet expectations.”

We may expect our relationships to be perfect during the holidays. However, if you have a tense relationship throughout the year, the holidays may not be any different. In fact, family conflicts are often intensified during holidays. Be aware of your family dynamics and what you can expect (or not!) from others. Make realistic plans and openly talk with others about any expectations around time spent together.

Financial stress from buying gifts, travel expenses, and purchasing specialty foods as well as other holiday items can lead to feeling financially overwhelmed, and even frustrated and resentful.  Give yourself permission to cut back on purchases. Remember, it is the intention behind the gift, the offering of food and spending quality time with others that matters.

Holidays evoke memories, and often the memories are unpleasant. This may be especially true around memories of something bad happening during past Christmases and of missing loved ones who are no longer with us or not able to be with us. Returning home or to other places can often trigger such memories and their associated feelings.

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It is okay to take time to cry and express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.

Facing the huge expectation that one is supposed to be with friends and family over the holidays can bring disappointment and feelings of loneliness to those who are alone. Being by ourselves on Christmas does not mean we cannot bring meaning to the holidays.

If you are anticipating loneliness, seek out social interaction through community, spiritual, volunteering or other social events. Participating with others, even if they are strangers, raises the levels of the feel-good oxytocin molecule. Create a list of self-care activities that bring you joy and peace (e.g., walks in nature, buying a treat, making a gratitude list, listening to music, viewing a favourite movie, etc.). Make the holiday what you want it to be like.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.