Christmas time is the most likely time of the year to experience depression. The suicide rate is higher during December than any other month, which tells us that Christmas depression should be taken quite seriously. Depression at Christmas time can be triggered by a multitude of things, such as losses, failures, and loneliness. These elements are exacerbated this time of year. People who have had deaths in the family or have experienced divorce or the loss of a child are more prone to depression, especially during the holiday season.
It can be especially difficult to cope with a Christmas depression because everyone else seems so joyous, so reaching out feels more awkward and more remote. We don’t want to bring down those around us, we don’t want to feel “different” or alienate ourselves, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves either. We tend to disassociate ourselves from our own feelings and ask ourselves self defeating questions. We wonder what’s wrong with us and why we can’t just jump right on into the holiday cheer. This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year and yet we can barely drag ourselves out of bed and become functional human beings. On top of feeling sad and dysfunctional, we feel out of place, and somehow illegitimate in our feelings.
Not all holiday depression has anything to do with loss or failure or death, or even anything obvious. Sometimes people tend to just get depressed around the holidays. Yet those without an obvious “reason” feel that they really shouldn’t be depressed and are least likely to reach out for help. It’s as though people who have experienced trauma have more of a “right” to experience holiday depression than those who appear to have everything that could need or want.
People fail to recognize that holidays are stressful enough to trigger a depression. Sometimes the hustle and bustle and the need to produce (food, presents, parties, and the lot) are enough to seriously frustrate a person right into a depression. Feeling disconnected with the holidays can easily lead to a mild to moderate depression.
Whether dealing with a loss or change or simply feeling overwhelmed by holiday sadness, the number one most important thing anyone can do is to tell someone. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Over the past ten years there has been a great awakening, so to speak, that has illuminated the issue of Christmas depression. People have become more educated and more understanding about the phenomenon and often already know that someone they love is suffering from depression before there is any actual confession.
If you are alone at Christmastime and you realize that you are coming down with holiday depression, reach out to someone by phone, whether it is a friend, a relative, or a professional, just call someone. This is so important. There is nothing to be ashamed of and there are plenty of people willing and able to assist you. A bad moment (even a really long one that last several weeks) does not have to ruin a future. Unfortunately people who find themselves depressed and do nothing about it are prone to staying depressed. Depression can interfere with job performance, friendships, romantic relationships, parenting ability, self care, and even the ability to take care of the dog. It can lead to losses of these very important things if the depression becomes serious enough.
The onset of Christmas depression can sneak up on you in numerous forms. You may simply start to feel more tired than normal or start sleeping through the alarm. You may procrastinate on holiday shopping, even when those events that require your participation are only a few days away. You may start to feel randomly irritable, or snap at people without provocation. You may start to feel disconnected with the world and withdraw from those around you, even children. These are all signs that you are experiencing at least some form of holiday depression, and warning signs that you may need help in dealing with whatever is making you feel this way.
Dealing with a holiday depression once you are able to recognize it is a vital step in returning to a better state of health. Naturally, my first recommendation is that you find a good counselor to speak with. The onset of holiday depression doesn’t have to mean that you require long term counseling or even medication. It may just mean you have to learn to set better boundaries or learn to let go of the past or learn better coping skills when it comes to dealing with a tragedy. Nothing that you are experiencing is so terribly abnormal, and no one is going to react terribly to you if you ask for help.
A good counselor can help you learn to set “holiday boundaries” while you are coping with holiday depression. “Holiday boundaries” include things like limiting the number of holiday party invitations you and your family accept, scaling down Christmas to a level that feels more reasonable to everyone, asking for help in the Christmas preparations, and perhaps dealing a little differently with the specific tasks that tend to depress you more. If wrapping presents creates a huge sadness in you because it triggers and emotion or a memory, then perhaps you can get a significant other, an older child, or another relative to help you so that you don’t have to wrap nearly as many. Sometimes just doing it with someone is enough to help keep your depression away.
A Christmas depression is usually more than just a simple case of the holiday blues, and it really should be treated with more respect than that. It is better to go to a counselor and have them tell you that you just have the “blues” and it will pass than to sit on a serious depression and slowly watch your world around you disassemble. A holiday depression requires attention, especially one that develops annually. While it may seem logical to believe that because it happens every year that it will just keep leaving every year isn’t logic that should be counted on when help is so readily available.