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Dealing with depression at Christmas

Published: 
Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas should be a time of happiness and togetherness but for some people, the holiday represents a time of sadness and loneliness. Instead of breaking bread with friends and family, exchanging and opening presents, some people find themselves hiding away from prying eyes and the festive cheer.

For people like Sarah Charles (not her real name), Christmas becomes overwhelming as she becomes surrounded by people who are joyful about spending time with family and are exuberant and excited, emotions she cannot relate to because of her separation from family members.

One young woman, Rebecca, said she used to love Christmas but since the death of her mother, she finds the holiday unbearable and spends most of her time asleep indoors waiting for it to be over.

“It was my mother’s favourite holiday. She used to go all out with decorations and food and inviting people over. I can’t help but think about her the most at Christmas. It’s a really painful feeling.”

Clinical Psychologist Dr Katijah Khan, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian last week, said it was very common for people to feel depressed at Christmas time because it is a time for family and spending happy moments with others. Khan, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies and the immediate past president of the T&T Association of Psychologists, said for someone suffering from depression, Christmas becomes taxing, sometimes because of the additional social demands of the season, and often because for people who may have lost loved ones, Christmas and similar holidays amplifies the emotions stemming from loss.

Dr Khan shares the following tips for people who find themselves depressed during the holidays.

Accept and acknowledge your feelings If you are grieving for someone you lost, allow yourself to do that. Start a tradition that helps you remember them—eg, an ornament on the tree in their memory, singing their favourite carols.

If you are lonely or missing your loved ones, then it is okay to feel sad. Try to connect in other ways—phone, video calling, social media if you can. Don’t feel you have to force yourself to feel happy all of the time, just because it is the holidays. There is no one correct or right way to feel.

Be realistic about expectations

Things don’t need to be perfect! The house doesn’t need to be perfect, everyone doesn’t need to get along and you don’t have to visit or host everyone.

Try not to do too much and place pressure on yourself. It’s okay to say no if you do not feel like it.

Avoid conflict where you can

If you know there are family members you clash with and you are likely to see them, anticipate this and prepare to be neutral, go talk to someone else or walk away.

Plan ahead

Decide what needs doing and when and how you’ll get it done. For example, if you want pastelles and black cake, but do not want to or have time to make them yourself this year, decide where you will order/buy them from. This way you still get to enjoy them without the stress and hassle!

Avoid comparisons

They say comparison is the thief of joy. It’s true! It may look like others have a happier, more successful family but that is a recipe for disappointment and sadness. Every family has their issues and not all holidays are perfect and happy.

Remember self-care

Take a break when you need it. Treat yourself in between the running around to get things done. It is important to maintain good exercise and sleep habits and moderation with food and alcohol.

Remember the reason for the season

Don’t get stressed and sidetracked by doing more and spending more than you can afford. Focus on creating memories and moments which do not have to come with a price tag!

Get help if you need it

If you think you are not coping well or if you have been diagnosed with depression and are finding it harder to cope during the holidays, talk to a friend or loved one about your struggles and please seek professional help.