Global Mental Health

The history and future of mental health around the world.

Christmas Blues

Christmas can be sad, stressful, and bleak


Christmas time is a period we are told to look forward to. For Americans this holiday is associated with good things in life: joy, gifts, and time spent with the family. The media driven consumer culture further reinforces this belief by idealizing the picture perfect Rockwellian family.

Yet for many, the Christmas period is a far cry from Norman Rockwell's post-war American ideal of family gatherings overflowing with gifts and laughter. Rather it's a period with at least some kind of disappointment, anxiety, or even sadness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Christmas is often accompanied by a variety of stressors, including alcohol, changed sleep rhythms, increased financial burdens, and family conflicts. Losses during the year, be it death of a loved one or economic setbacks, are experienced more acutely during this time.

It is important for individuals to acknowledge the difficulties during this period: seek professional help with severe Christmas depression when needed. However, staying active and not isolated, reducing alcohol consumption and being aware and mindful of difficult family dynamics can lessen holiday blues. Most importantly, remember that the advertising hype and picture perfect imagery is fictional; don't let it define your experience!

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Amir A. Afkhami, M.D., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Global Health at the George Washington University.

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